4 minute read
College and universities are increasingly opting to be “test-optional.” Lots of students have questions about this major shift in the world of higher education, and we’re here to provide some answers.
1. What does it mean when a college or university calls itself “test-optional?”
Although each college and university defines its test-optional position slightly differently, it generally means that students are not required to submit standardized test scores (like the SAT and ACT) as part of their applications. Some schools require alternative items in place of standardized test scores (like additional essays, creative pieces, or AP or IB scores), but some schools simply make submitting standardized test scores optional.
2. Okay, but what does that really mean?
It means that colleges are beginning to recognize that a standardized test score does not define the growth, potential, and drive of a student. It also suggests that all parts of students’ applications are being evaluated, instead of some students possibly being judged significantly by their performance on a difficult and time-constrained test.
3. How do I find out if a school is test-optional?
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) tracks the colleges and universities that are now “test-optional, test-flexible, or otherwise de-emphasize the use of standardized tests by making admissions decisions — without using ACT or SAT scores — for all or many applicants who recently graduated from U.S. high schools.” (The number is currently more than 1070!) Individual colleges also specify their application requirements on their web pages. If you’re ever not sure, a call to the admissions office will clarify what must be submitted.
4. Are a lot of schools moving toward becoming test-optional?
It appears so – the numbers of have been steadily increasing with new schools, including selective ones, added every month. Some Maryland colleges that are on FairTest’s list are Salisbury University, McDaniel College, Hood College, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and Goucher College.
5. Can a student still send their test scores as part of their application to a test-optional school?
Be sure to check with each individual school, but generally yes. If a student has solid test scores that add to their complete application, then it’s probably a good idea to submit them. If the test scores aren’t quite what the student hoped and lower than the average of that particular school, then they can choose not to submit them. Test-optional schools allow students to think of their test scores like an attractive garnish on a beautiful plate of food. Include the garnish if it improves the plate, but leave it off if it doesn’t.
6. If more schools are becoming test-optional, should students still take the SAT and ACT?
We think taking one or both of the tests is still a good idea. Here are a few reasons why:
- Many schools still require either SAT or ACT scores to be included in a college application. Even if a student originally thinks that they will only apply to test-optional schools, they may change their mind before application deadlines arrive. Having test scores on-hand will prevent students from having to take a standardized test at the last moment.
- A school may advertise itself as test-optional, but there could be fine print. For example, some schools only allow in-state applications to choose whether they would like to submit their test scores. And manysome schools require test scores to qualify for merit scholarships.
- The old adage rings true – you never know until you try. A student may receive higher scores than expected on their standardized tests, and then decide to submit those scores to test-optional schools.
- When applying to a test-optional college that requires alternative items to be submitted in lieu of test scores, a student must judge if creating or providing those alternative items may require more effort and time than taking a standardized test. The trade-off may not be worthwhile.
Test-optional colleges offer a great alternative for students who aren’t thrilled with their standardized test scores but have an impressive overall academic performance. It also represents an important step in colleges recognizing students’ unique skillsets.
For students who are interested in boosting their standardized test scores as components of their applications, our comprehensive SAT and ACT classes are a great resource!