The USC Office of Admissions announced on their website on Feb. 22 that USC’s test-optional policy will be extended for the upcoming 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years.
USC joins several other universities including the University of California schools, Stanford, Harvard and Columbia in waiving the ACT and SAT requirement for applicants. Prospective students can also apply for scholarships to USC without taking the standardized tests.
The decision stems from both the need for a more equitable admissions process as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, according to USC Dean of Admissions Timothy Brunold.
“The pandemic, the economic downturn and our country’s anti-racist social reckoning all require us to pay greater attention to how our processes can best serve the diversity of students and families that we seek to add to the USC community,” Brunold said in a statement on the admissions website.
The decision was also made in part to give the admissions department time to analyze the effects of the test-optional policy from the previous year. The university first announced that policy in April 2020.
“Since many high school students begin preparing for these tests months in advance, we hope that by extending our test-optional pilot now, current high school sophomores and juniors will enjoy some sense of relief and realize that they have options for the future,” Brunold said.
Brunold and the admissions department said they feel comfortable adequately assessing prospective students with or without testing scores, based solely on grading systems and curricula, according to the blog post.
But simply enacting the test-optional policy does not eradicate applicant stress, according to Abigail Corish, a junior at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor, New York. Corish plans on applying to USC in the next application cycle year.
“I honestly have no idea what to expect next year. I know that at least I don’t think the actual college admissions process is going to change that much besides just the standardized test scores,” Corish said. “I’m definitely nervous about getting started.”
Although changes in some of the admissions processes can be confusing and nerve wracking, Corish says that this change does offer some relief.
“It’s definitely weird, because we’re sort of in this interesting transition period,” Corish said. “But I think it’s a little less stressful knowing that this one score it’s not going to determine your placement in a university.”
The admissions team said they examine the entire applicant and consider multiple variables related to each application.
“Context and flexibility are longstanding hallmarks of USC’s holistic admission process. We are adept at considering students’ individual circumstances, the challenges they’ve faced and the specific context of their high school years,” Brunold said.
For students like Corish, time that may have usually been spent preparing for the ACT or SAT was instead spent on coursework or hobbies and other extracurriculars that can enhance applications.
The school also announced that the test-optional application policy also applies to merit-based scholarship applications. Students who choose to send in test scores for consideration will still be able to apply for scholarships, but applicants do not need to in order to be considered for scholarships.
Despite the university’s persistence that opting out of submitting test scores will not negatively affect a candidate’s chance of admission, Corish has doubts.
“I know for myself that I’m still kind of wary of it, because I’m sure that they’re still going to put some weight into submitting your SAT and ACT scores,” Corish said. She took both tests earlier this year, but says whether or not she will submit them depends on each individual school’s statistics, as most schools she is applying to are now test-optional.
While some prospective students remain wary of the new policy, Brunold advised students to “focus on staying engaged in school and remaining healthy and well” and to minimize stress about college applications.