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What To Know About Test-Optional Colleges


Over the last ten years, hundreds of colleges began allowing applicants to determine whether to submit SAT or ACT scores or not. Although not having to take one of these standardized tests might sound like heaven. There are some vital things to consider prior to submitting the Common Application not having to attach the SAT or ACT. Applicants should really understand what test-optional means, and how to ensure your application stands out without the test scores.

Why More Colleges Are Going Test-Optional

Recently, several colleges have implemented test-optional admission policies. This means that they permit potential students to determine whether to submit SAT or ACT scores when they apply. If an individual does, the college will take that score into consideration. However, if they do not, the college will penalize them for it. Several schools, however, only permit specific individuals to opt-out, such as applicants with a very high GPA. Or those that have additional recognizable strengths on their applicant. In situations like this, applicants not meeting the predetermined criteria will be required to submit standardized test scores.

Several schools have also employed test-flexible policies. Which means the applicant is able to submit other test scores. Scores such as International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement exams can be submitted in place of the SAT or ACT. In this policy scores still have to be submitted. However, the applicant has the option of which type of test to take and submit that score.  

This brings into question, how the process of admissions would work for test-optional schools? According to the Assistant Director of Admissions at Willamette University, Kaitlyn Rice, not much is different reviewing a test-optional submission. She further explained that they still review all the same things they did before. Such as references, writing samples, extracurricular activities, the strength of coursework, and GPA. The most significant difference is that specific sections of the application will be given substantially more weight for applicants that opt-out.

Colleges implement test-optional admission policies for reasons such as the following:

Standardized Tests Do Not Necessarily Predict College Success

The dispute regarding standardized tests as a poor indicator of student success is nothing new. Plus, more and more evidence continues to surface in support of test-optional policies. Past studies have discovered that standardized tests scores are unable to predict college success no better than high school GPA. However, the makers of the SAT, The College Board, disagree. They state that the pilot predictive validity study discovered that the SAT predicts college success in the first year, as well as GPA, does. They believe that in conjunction with high school GPA, SAT scores are the best predictor overall.

Test-Optional Policies Help Enhance Diversity

Several schools believe test-optional policies attract minority and low-income applicants who might not be able to take the standardized test. Or they do not do well on standardized tests but are really strong students otherwise. A study of thirty-three colleges that implemented test-optional admissions discovered these students were more likely to withhold test scores. The policies appeared to be leading to an increase in enrollment of low-income and minority students.

Boost School Prestige

Critics state that there is a third factor giving the test-optional policy momentum. That is, it increases the prestige of the school by driving down acceptance rates. Decreasing barriers to admission increases the pool of applicants; however, it does not increase the availability necessarily. Colleges could then reject more applicants, which makes them seem more selective in rankings.

Who Benefits From Opting Out?

Students that have great GPA scores but low test scores. These applicants should not feel any pressure of submitting their scores. The majority of test-optional colleges usually believe high school GPA is a better predictor of future success. Therefore, there is no plausible reason to willingly send in the low SAT or ACT scores.

Well-rounded Students. Applicants that have evidence of excelling outside of the core subjects mathematics, English, and science. However, has success in the core classes, does not need to depend on test scores. Applicants that are Art students and others referred to as soft subjects have the ability to compensate for scores by submitting exceptional portfolios. They can also submit their good grades in the subject area and awards.

Anxiety-ridden test takers. Applicants that experience severe test anxiety will likely feel reduced stress if they are allowed to skip the standardized tests. Being less stressed could allow the students to be more productive and focused in other areas. Such as personal statements, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities.