“Test Optional” students: Do they really belong here?

Questioning whether the class of 2025 got the easy way out

Victoria Ernst

The other day I was eating dinner with my friends at d-hall when I caught sight of a freshman getting an ice cream from the soft serve machine. The young man filled the cone in a zig-zag rather than a circular motion, forming a rectangular prism rather than a conical swirl of ice cream. 

As he pulled the lever to stop filling the cone in his unorthodox, rather idiotic manner, the ice cream toppled off the cone and splattered on the floor. “That screams test optional,” I said to my friends, who practically choked on their food from laughing. I didn’t even laugh; I’m so acclimated to making fun of freshmen with that joke. 

But the irony is that I’m a freshman -a test optional freshman- just like that imbecile in the dining hall. 

So why do I make that joke if it applies to myself too? Well, number one, I can make that joke because I am “test-optional.” Number two, undeserving high schoolers weasel their ways through universities’ admissions councils every year- and I’m not just talking about Washington and Lee University.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, testing sites for College Board’s standardized testing, most notably the SAT and ACT, were closed. Although some high school juniors had already taken these tests, most did not get the opportunity to do so. As a result, virtually all universities across the nation announced that they would not require students of the graduating college class of 2025 to submit test scores, including the SAT, ACT, and other less important tests such as SAT subject tests. 

The idea of not requiring a standardized test was radical and, for the most part, unprecedented. Not only did older students spend countless hours and dollars on courses to prepare for these exams, but also had to forgo time dedicated to strengthening other parts of their application, such as GPA and extracurriculars. How could the class of 2025 get away with this unfair advantage?

I absolutely agree with the fact that some students are undeserving of their acceptance to Washington and Lee, but that notion definitely does not apply to the entire test optional class; in fact, this statement may be applied to all undergraduate classes across the entire country’s colleges and universities. 

Each year, committed student athletes get the upper hand when applying to college. Typically, these individuals get the OK from admissions stating that they will be accepted- even if their application does not come close to that of a NARP (non-athletic regular person), whose resumé is filled with perfect markings, extracurriculars and volunteer hours – simply because they have a good arm or can run really fast. While this phenomenon may not apply to many DIII colleges, it certainly does for upper division schools that offer athletic scholarships.

There are plenty of other ways in which students receive acceptance, even when they are academically unqualified. (Not to bring up the elephant in the room at the school with the nation’s most strict honor system, but…) hundreds of high school students are master cheaters- especially with virtual schooling- and somehow go all four years without getting caught. As a result, these students have absurdly high GPAs, making admissions counselors nod their heads in delight when seeing their transcripts. Ah, Joe Schmo looks like a hard worker and a perfect addition to our campus. Yeah, right.

Socioeconomic status as well as familial background can also play into admissions for many. Maybe one kid doesn’t have the most promising application, but he’s a legacy, and his dad did just donate a new library to the school. OK, fine, we’ll let him in. Although we may not like to believe it, these situations occur all of the time. 

I would like to reiterate that I am in no way accusing Washington and Lee’s Board of Admissions of any of these practices. Rather, I am identifying phenomena that occur on a national scale. Either way, students who find themselves offenders of one of the above situations are less likely to succeed in the long run. Getting in is the easy part; surviving the rigorous academics is the real challenge. Congratulations, how does it feel to be the runt of the litter?

There definitely are some weasels in the class of 2025, but they’re a much more prominent species than you think: they lurk through every class at every school. Test optional or not, there’s no escaping them.