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My high school junior will be applying to colleges next year. What should we expect in terms of standardized testing for this spring and next fall, and what tests do you advise she takes (or not)?

Thinking Ahead in Florida

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Chris Espinoza

As a Navigator for Greater Boston families, Chris Espinoza specializes in helping students on the path to a college education. A first generation college student himself, Chris worked at colleges and universities across Boston before joining EdNavigator. He’s also a gourmet chef in training and a proud dog dad.

Dear Thinking Ahead,

You’re doing the right thing by asking this ahead of time, because college application guidelines and requirements are definitely in flux right now, and they vary quite a bit by college. That said, it’s hard to answer this with real clarity at this point because there are still more unknowns than knowns. Here’s what we can say as of now:

Many colleges waived their SAT/ACT requirements for this year’s application season. But proceed with caution when it comes to “optional” tests. It’s possible that many colleges will retain some of their pandemic-era flexibility. But that’s far from certain at this point. And regardless, even though some colleges may call test scores “optional” for general admission, they may still require them for merit-based aid, admission to honors programs, and other opportunities. So it’s really important that you and your daughter take a look at the fine print in her applications: You don’t want to miss out on valuable opportunities because she doesn’t have test scores to submit. At this point, especially given all the unknowns about next year, we recommend that high school juniors plan to take the SAT and/or ACT next year (twice, if they can!), even if colleges deem them optional. If she does that, your daughter will have all her bases covered no matter what. (Both tests offer fee waivers for students who need them. Here’s how to apply for the SAT and ACT fee waivers.)

SAT subject tests are out, as is the SAT written essay. The College Board has eliminated SAT subject tests—the hour-long tests on specific topics like U.S. history or chemistry—as well as the SAT’s written essay, effective as of this year, so your daughter doesn’t have to worry about those.

But the PSAT and PLAN are still in. Even if it’s not clear whether or not your daughter will need to take the SAT next year, she should still take the PSAT if at all possible: It offers great practice and will give her (and you) a sense of how she’s doing. On top of that, it’s a gateway for certain scholarship opportunities, especially the National Merit Scholarship Program and others through the Student Search Service. If your school isn’t offering the PSAT this year due to the pandemic, your daughter can still apply for National Merit scholarships using her future SAT scores. (Learn more about that here.) The PLAN is the equivalent to the PSAT for the ACT, so if your daughter plans to take the ACT next year, that one offers good practice, too. And while you’re at it, if she’s taking the ACT, consider opting into the Educational Opportunity Service; like the SAT’s Student Search, the EOS will pass along your daughter’s information to colleges who can then match her with scholarship opportunities.

Advanced Placement (AP) tests are still happening. If she’s taking any Advanced Placement courses this year, those exams will still take place in May, either in-person or via a “digital contingency exam” at home. (There are fee waivers available for students who need them.) And just as a reminder about AP courses—your daughter can earn college credit for taking them and scoring well enough on the exams, so if she’s up for it and her school offers them, AP courses offer an opportunity to save time and tuition dollars.

Bottom line? Plan as though tests are proceeding as usual. Khan Academy offers great test prep your daughter can do for free, from home. By planning ahead for the usual standardized tests, your daughter will be in good shape no matter what happens.

Phew. That’s a lot, I know. Reach out again if you and your daughter have any questions! And check back with us at The Kinda Guide, too, as we’ll share more information on college applications and the 2021-22 school year as we learn about it.

“At this point, we recommend that high school juniors plan to take the SAT and/or ACT next year (twice, if they can!), even if colleges deem them optional.”