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Washington universities drop SAT, ACT requirements amid coronavirus pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis is bringing about big changes in the college admissions process.

SPOKANE, Wash —

Gonzaga University announced on Tuesday that it will join a growing list of local and regional universities allowing the 2021 high school class to apply for admission without submitting ACT or SAT scores. 

Those tests were previously a requirement in the admissions process for Gonzaga, as well as the University of Washington, Washington State University and Eastern Washington University. Those schools, along with Whitworth, will now make ACT and SAT tests optional for current high school juniors who will be applying to college in the fall. 

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, both the College Board and ACT have cancelled numerous testing opportunities this spring. While June exams are still scheduled, there’s some doubt whether they will actually take place. 

In a prepared statement, GU explained the university “will continue to review applications holistically, considering the context of a student’s application, and carefully reviewing each applicant’s curriculum, grades, writing, activities and involvement (including part-time work), and character.” 

Even before the coronavirus crisis upended the college application and admissions process, Gonzaga University was taking steps to minimize the impact of SAT and ACT scores, finding there are better predictors of success in college. After digging in and studying the issue, Associate Provost for Enrollment Management Julie McCulloh explained that high school grade point average has proven to be a much more powerful predictor.

“One of the things that we found was that engagement in high school — anything from high school activities to work to volunteering — was actually correlated to more success at the end of the first year in college," she said.

While more than 4 million students typically take the ACT/SAT each year, Washington State University also highlighted the tests’ limitations in predicting success in a written statement on its website stating, “Standardized tests do not necessarily predict an individual student’s success at a university or college. More and more institutions of higher education are giving prospective freshmen the option of omitting standardized test scores.” 

RELATED: SAT, ACT cancel spring exams due to coronavirus

For several years, WSU has assured admission to high school seniors with GPAs higher than 3.5 regardless of their SAT/ACT scores.

Whitworth University was one of the first schools in the region to go “test-optional” in 2007. Greg Orwig, the Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid, said the University was concerned about equity and the clear correlation between household income and test scores. 

“We honestly look at everything on a high school student’s transcript,” he explained. "In addition, the University places a high value on face-to-face interviews and an examination of the quality of the applicant’s character.” 

While Whitworth, WSU, EWU, UW and Gonzaga are making standardized tests optional for 2021, all are quick to point out that students will not be at a disadvantage for taking that option. However, if a student believes submitting scores can strengthen their application, they may do so. 

All of the universities have also emphasized that high school students receiving pass/fail grades as a result of the COVID-19 crisis will not be negatively impacted by not receiving traditional letter grades. 

RELATED: ACT to allow students to retake individual sections of exam

Undergraduate admissions deadlines extended 

For current high school seniors who still need to make a decision about where they will be attending college in the fall, most of the local and regional colleges have extended their deadlines. May 1 is typically known as “National Decision Day.” Here’s a breakdown of the new deadlines: 

University of Washington - May 1, 2020 

Washington State University (all campuses) - June 1, 2020*

Eastern Washington University - June 1, 2020

Gonzaga University - June 1, 2020

Whitworth University - June 1, 2020 

*Other WSU campuses (Vancouver, Everett, Tri-Cities) may extend this deadline further. 

Virtual Visits

While many high school seniors were planning on spring break trips or long weekends for one last visit to help them decide where to go to college, many must now turn to their computers for virtual tours and information sessions.

Eastern Washington University has transitioned all admitted student events to virtual events. This weekend, Gonzaga is hosting its GEL weekend (Gonzaga Experience Live) for admitted students online for the first time in 30 years. 

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