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SAT subject tests going away; now what?

Today, the College Board made waves when it dropped the bombshell that it's doing away with the SAT subject tests, as well as the SAT optional essay.

This is being celebrated across the U.S. as a positive step toward reducing the demands on students, as these tests have become less and less meaningful in U.S. college admissions and in a university's ability to make a decision about a student.

Student studying

After all, students applying to U.S. colleges do submit loads of essays, supplemental essays, multiple letters of recommendations, transcripts of grades and resumes packed with extracurriculars, in addition to undertaking various interviews all the while having to 'prove'/demonstrate their interest in that college by visiting campuses, engaging with Admissions, opening and clicking through their emails and more.

Now, at least the SAT subject tests are one less thing to worry about.

However, American students applying for college abroad are left wondering how this move will affect their chances at universities overseas, where admissions is much more academically-focused.

This is especially true when it comes to the UK, where SAT subject tests have historically been key for U.S. students without Advanced Placement exams.

To give some context, universities in the UK (and across Europe) generally don't recognize the U.S. high school diploma as being equivalent to their educational systems; however, having three AP exam scores of 3 or higher could do the trick, since AP courses are considered to be university-level studies.

These three AP exams are also seen as the equivalent of the UK A-level exams, which their local students take in subjects relevant to the degree they're applying for.

But because not every U.S. student takes or can take AP courses (let alone has access to them), almost half of the universities in the UK have been allowing U.S. students to meet their entry requirements through SAT subject tests--or a combination of AP's and SAT subject tests--and sometimes in addition to the SAT or ACT (with the exception of those who have gone temporarily test-flexible due to Covid-19).

These AP/SAT subject test scores are also used to meet prerequisite subject requirements, like the ones you'd find for degree programs such as medicine, engineering, languages or anything science-related, to prove the student has the right foundation of knowledge to study this subject in depth and at a higher level.

The beauty of the SAT subject tests

It was not only about access for those without the opportunity to do AP's--but also because of the flexibility it offered, with students being able to take the tests at various points throughout the year.

School doesn't offer a particular AP?

Student doesn't do well enough on the AP?

Student decides too late in senior year that they want to apply for a particular degree abroad and can't add a certain AP?

No problem - just study for and take an SAT subject test(s).

Applied early and received a conditional offer on the basis of achieving a certain grade in a particular subject?

No problem - you'll have multiple attempts throughout the year to achieve that score through the SAT subject test, even as late as June in the summer before the degree starts!

All of that, and more, is now off the table.

Now, two things are clear:

  • One, the need to plan early for college admissions abroad is about to become even more crucial. I highly encourage students to get in touch with me to start college abroad admissions guidance sooner than later.

  • And two, UK universities will have to make some serious changes if they still want to attract American students - even going so far as to consider students with just the standard high school diploma and no AP's.

Ashley Monaghan, a Senior International Officer at King's College London, is optimistic that UK universities will be able to adapt and had this to say:

“After a disruptive year, we now know Admissions departments can make inclusive and streamlined decisions without these scores and without compromising quality, so this will take one burden off students to focus on the brightest future possible.”

Whether universities abroad actually make this move to be more accommodating or instead rely more heavily on AP exam scores remains to be seen.


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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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