#College Essays and Applications

With the spread of “test-optional” policies nationwide, the term itself has become broadly used and widely misinterpreted. In this post, we outline what test-optional does and does not mean, and what students should do as a result.

What is “Test-Optional”?

A test-optional policy means that students have the choice to submit standardized test scores or not when submitting their college applications. When test scores are submitted, they are treated the same as they always have been. So a test-optional policy is essentially a college offering the option to students to be evaluated without test scores.

What “Test-Optional” Does Not Mean

Test-optional policies do not mean that test scores are any less significant for the students who choose to submit them. They can still be a strong asset on a student’s application.

In the 2019 NACAC Report, college admissions officers nationwide agreed that test scores were the second most important factor in admissions behind a student’s grades and academic rigor. It is not as if admissions officers nationwide changed their mind about this suddenly because test centers began to cancel.

Getting up to Speed

For the high school Class of 2021, almost every college went test-optional due to test center cancelations blocking many students from taking an SAT or ACT.

For the Class of 2022 applying now, most remain optional, but more colleges (such as the University of Georgia and Georgetown) have already reverted to requiring scores. Still others strongly recommend students submit test scores by wording that students who are unable to test are still welcome to apply.

For the Class of 2023 and beyond, we expect more schools to revert to their pre-pandemic policies of requiring test scores. That said, they will have more test-optional choices than the Class of 2020 or any class before.

Should I Apply Test-Optional?

Many students will end up needing to calculate whether or not they should send their test score(s) to a test-optional college.

The bottom line is that a strong test score will still help your student’s application. “Strong” here means at or above a college’s median SAT score. If your student scores at or above a college’s 75th percentile, submit the score. In many cases, a student who scores at or above a college’s median should submit. If your student’s score is lower than that, then their grades and academic rigor need to be able to replace the test score on their application in order for it to make sense not to submit the score.

What “Replaces” Test Scores?

Grades and academic rigor have always been the most important factors to colleges, and this only becomes more true in an application without SAT/ACT scores. For this reason, it is imperative for test-optional applicants to focus on earning the best grades they can. If your student is falling behind in school, consider academic tutoring to help turn B’s into A’s and C’s into B’s. Course selection also becomes more important without test scores to add context to a student’s performance in school. Contact us with any questions about course selection.

Other factors, such as the college essay, activities, and letters of recommendation become more impactful too, as colleges lose one of the primary indicators of a student’s academic profile.

What About Test Blind, or Score Free?

A test-blind, or score-free, policy means that a college will not consider SAT/ACT scores at all in their admissions decisions.  The University of California system is the biggest name to announce a test-blind policy. Students cannot plan on applying to only test-blind because so few schools offer it, but it is important to know that this policy exists at a few colleges.

So What?

Ultimately, we still recommend students plan to take and submit an SAT/ACT with their college applications. The goal of standardized test scores has always been twofold: to increase college options, and to potentially gain merit-based scholarship money. Even in the current climate of increased test-optional options, those goals remain the same. SAT/ACT test scores are still one more way to demonstrate a student is qualified to attend their college of choice, even if that school makes scores optional. There are also some colleges that use SAT/ACT scores for merit scholarship consideration even if they are test-optional for admissions.

As always, please contact us with any questions you have!