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What You Need to Know About Applying Test-Optional

Joining the revolving door of changes coming at you in response to COVID-19, colleges and universities are now test-optional, test-blind, test-flexible or still requiring standardized tests for admissions. But what does that even mean and how can it impact your chances at gaining admissions? It’s important to know the difference.

Test-optional colleges allow the students to decide whether they want to submit SAT/ACT test scores with their application.

Test-blind colleges will not consider test scores, even if they are submitted.

Test-flexible colleges allow the students to submit other test scores in place of the SAT/ACT, such as Advanced Placement scores, SAT Subject scores, and International Baccalaureate exam scores.

All College Policies Are NOT Created Equal

It is also important to know that these policies differ from college to college. Some college’s that are test-optional, still expect to receive scores if you already had the ability to test. Other college’s require test scores for out-of-state or international students, and for certain majors. Additional methods include using a formula which combines the GPA, class rank and test scores to determine testing requirements. In response to Covid-19, some test-optional colleges may not require testing for admission, while they may require testing for placement in freshman coursework or for scholarship or merit-based funding. Another option used by colleges this year, is asking for additional supplemental materials, such as certificates, capstone projects or additional letters of recommendation in lieu of test scores. The bottom line – you must refer to each college’s admissions guidelines testing policy (in full) for specific questions. If you are unsure, speak to an admissions counselor. Another good resource is for a recent list of colleges that are test-optional this year.

Admissions testing policies have become increasingly controversial, but the onset of the Coronavirus sped up the process for changes at many colleges. Colleges who were already advocating for test-optional, like Wake Forest and the University of California system, have long fought against the testing process, stating that they discourage and discriminate against the lower, socioeconomic population.

Many Test-Optional colleges are now using a holistic review process.

When test scores are unavailable, or you selectively choose NOT to submit the scores, other factor become more important in the process. Without test scores, the high school transcript is looked at even more closely. College are looking at the rigor of courses taken, grades and class rank. In addition, your activities, community involvement, achievements, letters of recommendation and essays (both required and optional) will carry more weight in the admission process. Why would a student NOT want to submit a test score, if it was available? One reason might be if the student wasn’t able to retake the test and they feel that the score does not accurately represent their ability level. Some colleges have taken a strong stance on the issue. In an open letter to students, Vice Provost Jon Boeckenstedt, Oregon State University, stated, “Please Don’t Test - I’ve written for over a decade about how unimportant these test are, and they become even more trivial now, when students literally have to risk their lives to take them.” We agree that you should risk your health to take this test!

So, when SHOULD you submit your test scores (if available)?

You should definitely consider submitting, if your score truly reflects your skill level. Admission’s officers are aware that old test scores are just that, old. They know you may likely have improved if you had retaken the test. You should research the statistics at each college and see if your score falls in line with last year’s acceptance rate scores. It is also important to look, not only at the college, but at the specific program you are applying to. STEM-based programs, engineering programs, and business programs many times have much higher averages that the overall college average for test scores. Applying test-optional could also impact potential scholarship money. Many colleges use test scores to award merit-based scholarships, so not submitting them might put you at a disadvantage. Again, always check with each college website for specific information.

PRO TIP: If you are taking fall tests, identify all deadlines to submit scores. For instance, if applying to UT Austin’s priority deadline of Nov. 1st, 2020, then scores cannot be received any later than Nov. 9th. That is only an eight day buffer to submit scores. Be very careful about deadlines.

Biggest Mistake

It is a misconception for students to think that if a college is test-optional, the test score will no longer play a role in the admissions process. While this new policy may be beneficial for strong students who do not test well, these college still value students who do test well and submit their scores. Colleges use test scores for reporting and marketing purposes. The higher the test scores, the better the college rankings. Also, financiers grant lower interest rates for colleges with higher test scores too. These test scores can make a big impact to a university’s bottom-line. That won’t change. So if you DO test well, consider submitting your scores even if the college is test-optional.

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