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The college test prep industry is changing, as more and more schools make the tests optional

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A sharpened pencils on a standardized test form.

Tests are becoming less of a factor in the college admissions process. basar17/Getty Image

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This week, the SAT announced that it will go paperless starting in 2024. But could college admissions tests become a thing of the past altogether? More than 1,800 schools across the country have paused or eliminated the requirement. 

It’s yet another sign that the college admission process — and the application prep industry that goes with it — are not what they once were. 

Even though many schools are waiving standardized test requirements right now, they’re still a factor in deciding many merit awards and other scholarships. That’s why Marc Cole enrolled his 16-year-old daughter in weekly SAT prep courses to help her get ready. She goes to school in Baltimore.  

“If it were completely optional, and it had no impact on her admissions or scholarship implications, I would take this off of the plate,” he said.

Still, Cole said knowing that his daughter has tutors helping her is reassuring. “I feel a lot less anxious about her preparation because I’ve gotten this service for her.”

That service, though, is one that he and a lot of other parents across the country pay for — anywhere from $25 for a book to thousands of dollars for one-on-one tutoring. The test prep industry includes hundreds of companies, nonprofits and businesses geared toward helping students score high, including The Princeton Review. 

“We’re a global company,” said Rob Franek, editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review.

The number of students who signed up for test prep help actually went up during the pandemic, Franek said, adding that it may be because COVID-19 took away so many of the other opportunities that allowed students to shine on college applications, like clubs and sports.   

“It’s that idea of being able to differentiate yourself in a time of great change,” he said.

Still, colleges and universities these days are putting more weight on other parts of a student application, according to Jamie Moynihan with the admissions consulting company AcceptU.  

“Testing has become a fraction of what it was in the evaluative process within the admission process,” Moynihan said.

The College Board, which puts out the SAT, said going digital may make the test accessible for more students. If more colleges do go test-optional, Priscilla Rodriguez with the College Board said she’s not worried. 

“Test scores can only help. If it’s a good reflection of your strengths and your knowledge, submit it,” she said.

And if not, she said to leave it out. 

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