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As you may have heard or read, many colleges now provide students with the option to submit test scores as part of their application (also known as “test-optional”). While it is always preferable to have options, we want our families and partner schools to have as much information as possible in order to help their student(s) put their best foot (feet :)) forward. Applicants will want to do everything possible to enhance their application, and that pertains to submitting test scores, as well. While a number of colleges have been test-optional for years, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed many additional colleges and universities to go test-optional a lot quicker. In this blog, we look at the landscape of test-optional admissions.
What does it mean for a college or university to be test-optional?
When a school labels itself as “test-optional,” it means that students who are applying are not required to submit standardized test scores (like the SAT and ACT) as part of their applications. Students can still choose to do so and often will want to in order to enhance their application and/or avail themselves of scholarship opportunities.
When colleges go test-optional does that mean they don’t look at test scores of the applicants?
Each school has a slightly different policy about its test-optional position, so it’s best for students to do research on their selected colleges to be sure of the requirements. For the most part, however, when a college is test-optional they still look at and consider the test scores of the students who submit them. This means that if an applicant has strong scores compared to the average of that college, then the applicant should submit scores to that college. (Applicants can, and should, choose which colleges to submit scores to).
Why would a college decide to go test-optional?
Each school has its own reasons, but here are a few overarching ones:
- Increased diversity. The University of Texas reports that its Top 10% program, which considers class rank instead of test-scores, has helped increase the diversity of admitted students.
- Help level the test prep playing field. Many students don’t have access to affordable and convenient test prep resources or courses like The Answer Class. If expensive test prep is the only option, only students of more affluent families will be able to participate, which will raise the potential of their scores.
- Increase in applications. Colleges that move to test-optional see an increase in applications which brings them additional money through fees and also gives them more applicants from which to choose.
- Lower acceptance rates. More applications with the same amount of “seats” leads to a drop in acceptance rates. A drop in acceptance rates then improves a school’s ranking which in turn leads to additional applications.
- Better access “the intangible qualities of curiosity and motivation.” The Dean of Admissions at Bowdoin, a small, highly-selective liberal arts college in Maine, points to the school’s long history of being test-optional as evidence that they’re looking for more of students’ personalities than what standardized test scores can show. Students can show their strengths through submitting other information.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect schools choosing to be test-optional?
Many colleges decided to go test-optional during the pandemic because so many students who had intended to take the SAT or ACT simply couldn’t do so. Many testing locations were closed, which left very few locations available compared to usual years.
How do students check if a school is test-optional?
When students make their “to-apply” list of schools, they can check on the National Center for Fair and Open Testing’s (FairTest) website to see if those schools are currently test-optional. But as students start working on applications, we advise that they visit each school’s website to get the full and most up-to-date information on the test-optional policies. If there is any confusion, students can email the admissions office for help.
What does this mean for applicants?
We will discuss this more in the next blog but for now, applicants should do everything they can on all parts of their application to reveal their best selves. We believe that students should prepare (without making themselves crazy!) and try to do well on the SAT or ACT so that they can use it to their advantage when applying to a variety of schools (each with a different average score) and when looking to earn as much scholarship money as possible.
In next month’s blog, we will bring test-optional back to the small scale and discuss what students need to know about test-optional policies right now.
And as 2021 comes to a close, it’s a great time to register for one of our affordable & convenient prep classes – SAT & ACT prep classes that teach everything students need to know while maintaining their sanity and without breaking the bank!
Read more about the test-optional world in our blog, “Test-Optional: What Does It Mean for You?”