NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The college admissions process has begun. Students are putting together their applications for the admissions process. They are compiling essays, grades and forms. Only some, however, will be adding in their test scores.

What’s happening with college entrance exams? Schools across the country are making tests like the ACT and SAT optional, leaving it up to applicants to decide — or they are taking away the requirement entirely.

In this Digital Desk conversation, Digital Host Sarah Goode speaks to Dennis E. Gregory, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Higher Education and Community College Leadership and Ashley Miller, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management from Old Dominion University. Watch the conversation in the video player on this page.

Nationally, ACT scores have reached a 32-year low.

“I think as we’re looking at the data those low scores started before the pandemic, but the pandemic really accelerated some of the declines that we’re seeing. I think overall these lend to more macro issues that are happening in education,” says Miller.

In the most recent class ODU admitted, they are seeing an increase in tests scores for those that submitted. ODU is test optional.

In terms of national numbers, Gregory says one factor is that the group of students taking these tests might have changed.

Some reports suggest this shows college readiness.

“I think there’s a multitude of factors that go into what makes a student college ready,” says Miller.

ODU has been a test optional school since 2015. Miller says they pride themselves on having a holistic admissions process.

In terms of measuring readiness, Gregory says there are other things they are seeing among students. This could be technical writing skills, civic education, history knowledge and more.

“Institutions try to look at a broad perspective of who the students are, and their backgrounds, and different preparation programs in their various high schools. And there are all these multiple measures admissions officers look for today,” says Gregory.

With test scores optional, what baseline indicators do admission counselors often look at? One is GPA.

“We do see from research, if you want to see the best predictor of persistence throughout college it is more the GPA,” said Miller. “It shows that student is putting in the work every year.”

She says it is also important to take into account what access students have in terms of curriculum offered and certain classes. Based on region, school district and more, there may be differing courses and resources available.

Similarly, these differences in education and opportunity have led to criticism of the college tests.

“There have been concerns of the value of tests and their applicability across race and ethnicity and socioeconomic status,” said Gregory.

Beyond admissions to college, Gregory and Miller also discussed the difficulty once you are accepted, paying to attend the institutions.

They say one area where college entrance exams can serve students is with scholarships. Some scholarships are given based on scores, or require them as part of the package.

Miller’s advice to parents, students and families as the college admissions process gets underway, is be yourself.

“Do your research, ask good questions, and really try to find a place that is the best fit for you and know there are multiple paths to success,” says Miller.

Watch the full conversation to hear Gregory and Miller offer their expertise on college entrance exams in the video player on this page.