Minnesota students, schools navigate test-optional college applications

NEW YORK - JUNE 27: SAT test preparation books sit on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble store June 27, 2002 in New York City. College Board trustees decided June 27 to add a written essay and other changes to the SAT in an overhaul of the college entranc

A trend more than a decade in the making has gained a lot of speed in recent years, leading colleges and universities to abandon requirements for ACT and SAT scores.

With the new year fast approaching, so are deadlines for applications.

"I am excited for those students who previously would not have felt these doors were not open to them because of a below average or modest score on a standardized test," said Al Cotrone, the Vice President of Admissions at the University of St. Thomas.

Cotrone said his office decided to go test optional more than a year ago.

Matt Hovelsrud is among the first group of high school seniors now sending applications to a list of schools including the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin without test scores.

He wasn’t happy with his scores and is well aware standardized tests are proven not to be the best snapshot of a student’s success in high school.

Various schools across the country are test-optional for the first time, in part because the pandemic cancelled testing opportunities in the spring.

For St. Thomas, the more holistic approach to the application review process has been years in the making.

"We’ve had a lot more students apply than was then anticipated," said Cotrone. "Fortunately, we felt we were really ready for it."

"It has been really good to get back to our roots," he added. "Of really getting to know the students."

Realizing the essay and the short-answer portion of the applications would be more important than ever, Hovelsrud and his parents turned to a writing coach for some tips.

The college essay coach recommended students find common threads or key messages within their list of accomplishments, always have someone proof the final version and include goals for the future.