Students travel out of city to take SAT exam

Cara Tran, Staff Writer

After a long second week of school spent slowly adjusting to being back in person with so many other students, Mariah Hamilton (12) left Westview and embarked on a traffic-filled four hour-long drive to Palm Springs. Typically, Hamilton would have chosen to do anything else on a Friday evening, especially on the Friday of the first home football game. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a choice—this would be one of her only chances to take the SAT before college applications. 

Hamilton had to undergo testing under COVID-19, meaning her chances to take the SAT were severely restricted. After attempting to schedule her SAT twice and having both be cancelled, Hamilton felt like her options were quickly dwindling. When test centers couldn’t uphold all the additional health measures, the pandemic brought with it cancellation after cancellation for the SATs. Just looking at the September 2020 SAT, 183,000 students of the 334,000 students registered to take the SAT had theirs cancelled. This trend is something that persisted throughout the pandemic and is one that left many high-school students like Hamilton feeling desperate and anxious. 

“It gave me a lot of anxiety knowing that my exam could be cancelled any day, especially knowing that this test could make or break my college acceptances,” Hamilton said. 

Even with all of the efforts colleges are making to accommodate for the difficulties of standardized testing during a pandemic, the stress of college applications and standardized tests hardly decreased for Hamilton, especially since many other seniors are still rushing to register for the SAT despite the fact that most private and public colleges within California have test-optional applications. 

As for out-of-state universities, counselor Christine Cudmore says the situation will differ. 

“Since other states don’t have systems like UCs and CSUs, every college has different requirements,” Cudmore said. “But this year’s seniors are pretty safe with not having SAT scores… so I don’t think [SAT scores] are something that [seniors] necessarily need to worry about as much. They still have to check individually with those colleges, programs, and scholarships they are applying for.”

Despite this, SAT scores still feel just as important to students like Hamilton. The reality that these tests are not necessary is one that Hamilton had a hard time accepting. After all, these policies meant little to her when there would still be an option to submit scores on many applications. 

“It doesn’t offer me any reassurance,” Hamilton said, “because it still means that [colleges] could consider [SAT scores]. It’s just as stressful as before.”

Hamilton, like others, felt obligated to take it. Before this test administration, she had tried twice before to take the SAT. But two cancellations forced her to seek test sites further away. Eventually, she was able to register for an SAT even if it was months after she originally planned to take one. In the end, Hamilton took the SAT 110 miles from home.

Despite the distance, she still found herself among the rest of her peers. Even in Palm Springs, she was surrounded by fellow San Diegans from Westview, Del Norte, and CCA. 

“All of us had the same idea,” Hamilton said. “All of us felt like we had to take it.”

This feeling, the belief that students needed to take the SAT, was one that plagued Katie Jacques (12) during her junior year of high school. When faced with a cancellation, Jacques took matters into her own hands and decided that she was going to take the SAT no matter what. 

While Hamilton had gotten off relatively easily with going 110 miles away, Jacques wasn’t as lucky. Instead, she took her SAT in Brick, New Jersey— a grand total of 2,780 miles away. 

Admittedly, there are a few reasons for Jacques’ trip to New Jersey but taking the SAT was a top priority. Like many other students, the SAT meant a lot to her. It was more than just a ploy from the College Board to get more of her money, although she definitely believes this to be true. To her, the SAT was an important step forward for her future. 

“The SAT is just another element to help secure a college [admission],” Jacques said, “Applying to college is already stressful enough, I didn’t want not having a score to make me look bad in comparison to other students who did take the test.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot up in the air. For high school seniors, college admissions are just another one of those things. Jacques said she thought it would be better to err on the side of caution when it came to college’s test-optional policies.

“It’s an unknown,” Jacques said. “I don’t know what not submitting an SAT score will do to me. With college, you have to take everything you can get because it’s so hard to get in now.”

This unknown, which once motivated Jacques, continues to motivate other high school seniors. As the college application period nears, this unknown will push more desperate students farther and farther away from home to take a test that isn’t mandatory. 

Despite their two very different test experiences, Hamilton and Jacques are essentially in the same place. They are Westview students whose desire to have a leg up over their peers in college admissions took them far from home to take an optional test.

In the end, both Jacques and Hamilton are relieved to have taken the SAT, especially as they watch their fellow students undergo the same journey of stress, uncertainty, and desperation that they have. 

“I’m not sure if I’m glad or not that I took the SAT,” Jacques said, “In the long run, I got it done and did well but the whole situation was undesirable. I was exhausted by the whole thing but I am relieved that I even had the option to take the SAT.”