March 20, 2020
I just found out that MIT is dropping its subject test requirement. That's my top school and I really want to go there — I got perfect scores on both the physics and math subject tests and that was going to be my edge. I don't really think it's fair to penalize me because I planned ahead and took these early (I'm a HS junior). Can I appeal? Should I send the scores anyway, even though they say not to? What can I do to fix the fact that they just killed my one big advantage?
We're living in a Brave New World when it comes to the college admission process ... and pretty much everything else to boot, and we all need to be steeling ourselves for even more change ... much of it unwelcome.
Certainly, "The Dean" can understand why this breaking news from MIT is bad news for you. Yet the MIT folks seem adamant that Subject Test scores will NOT be part of the admission process for applicants hoping to enter in the fall of 2021 or beyond, and that these scores should NOT be submitted even for optional consideration. The website explains:
"We think it would be unfair to consider scores only from those who have scored well and therefore choose to send them to us. They are neither recommended nor optional; they are simply not a part of our process anymore."
Of course, this amendment is also unfair to students like you who planned ahead and devoted time to preparing for what was — up until today — an important component of MIT admission verdicts.
In these unprecedented times, there are constant disruptions and modifications in the admissions universe as we all hunker down and assess how to carry on with so many uncertainties still ahead. And, as such assessments are made going forward, it's possible that the MIT honchos will respond to feedback like yours and reevaluate the "No optional Subject Tests" edict. But "The Dean" won't bet the mortgage money on this one. MIT's decision was the outcome of countless discussions over a long period, and it is not a hasty response to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many eons ago, when I worked at Smith College, we dropped the Subject Test requirement with the belief that more well-heeled students had access to these tests than our disadvantaged candidates did. In recent years, a growing number of colleges — even most of the hyper-competitive ones — have followed suit, although usually these schools will still review Subject Test scores if they receive them. Most likely, however, MIT will stand staunchly by the announcement made today and will not accept Subject Test results at all.
I understand why students in your shoes see this policy as unfair, but we are surrounded by unfairness right now, with some people being hit far, far harder than you are. So you asked what you can do to "fix the fact that they just killed my one big advantage?" Here are a few suggestions:
1. Don't complain about this to your MIT admissions rep or to anyone else at MIT. This will only hurt you, not help you. I suspect that MIT will get some blowback from school counselors and other educators who will suggest that the tests should remain optional for at least your class and the one beyond, in deference to those students who planned ahead. Thus, you can talk to your own counselor about lobbying MIT for a revision. But the whining shouldn't come from you. And the test scores shouldn't come from you either (unless MIT does reconsider and decides on an "optional" status).
2. Keep in mind that, at the vaunted MIT level, even perfect subject test scores will not get an applicant beyond the front gates. Perfect scores are common there. Admission officials will nod appreciatively at those big round numbers and then ask, "What's special?"
3. So focus on what is special about you. Can you come up with a research project, invention, etc. (ideally an individual undertaking, not a group one) that calls upon your expertise in math and/or physics? This is what MIT admission committees would be examining most closely anyway, even if you'd been able to send them your scores. As you've probably heard, "Necessity is the mother of invention." So get cracking ... and good luck!
Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please send it along here.
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