The State of Test-Optional Admission Policies
Most high school students take their standardized tests for college during the spring of junior year.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, many schools moved to online learning, and virtually all of the spring and summer SAT and ACT tests were cancelled. In fall 2020, many test sites canceled planned administrations or limited their capacity due to public health restrictions. Many seniors in the Class of 2021 did not get the opportunity to test either last spring and summer or this fall, and consequently lacked test scores to send to colleges.
Understanding the challenges for applying seniors, many US colleges and universities announced test-optional policies. Most of these colleges committed to test-optional for 1 year only, a few implemented 2- or 3-year pilot programs, and a handful moved permanently to test-optional. Prior to COVID, an increasing number of schools had already made the switch to test-optional. The pandemic accelerated the trend.
What is Test-Optional?
Students applying to test-optional schools decide whether to include their SAT or ACT scores in their applications. Typically, schools adopt test-optional policies in an effort to promote access and diversity. Such policies have the added benefit of increasing applicant pools, lowering admit rates, and raising average test scores – all favorable data points in college ranking systems. Students should remember that test-optional does not mean test-blind, a policy under which test scores are not considered at all, even if you send them.
Should I submit my scores if I’m applying to test-optional schools?
Well over 60% of applicants to test-optional schools submit test scores, with more selective schools having an even higher percentage. Submitting scores that are average or better for a particular college provides objective data demonstrating that a student is capable of handling the academic rigor at that school. Note that even at test-optional schools, test scores are often required for international students, recruited athletes, merit aid consideration, and students attending schools with non-traditional grading systems. Not submitting scores means that increased attention will be paid to other admission factors that are part of a holistic review process (e.g., recommendations, GPA, extracurriculars).
We recommend that juniors keep standardized tests on their radar and plan to submit test scores as part of their applications, test-optional or not. For schools on the list that are test-optional, students can decide at application time whether to submit scores or not. We think of this as the ‘everything to win, nothing to lose’ mindset.
Some Final Thoughts
The best approach to testing is different for every student. It’s important that you know your options and feel confident as you navigate this process. We encourage you to consult with your school counselor or advisor, and of course, we’re here to help as well. Feel free to use the comment box below or contact us directly with any questions.