5 Things to Know About Test-Optional Colleges



“As I’ve argued elsewhere, submitting SAT and ACT scores routinely increases students’ chances of being admitted to college, receiving more financial aid and placing out of remedial and introductory courses — even at test-optional universities. The use of the term “optional” is irresponsible because it obscures the very real benefits students can gain from preparing for the test and submitting their scores.”

~Yoon S. Choi, Inside Higher Education

The test-optional movement has gained momentum, as colleges try and adjust to the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic precluded the administration of the March 19th SAT in many locations and all SAT/ACT test dates in April and May were cancelled. The College Board eliminated the June test and the ACT set up alternative test dates for June and July. (And those are looking less viable as summer looms). While the ACT and the College Board adjusted, colleges took measures to try and alleviate stress for students and create options for applicants that might not have the opportunity to sit for the test. One of those steps was to become either test-optional or test-blind. Another was to eliminate the required or recommended SAT Subject Area Tests. Here are a few thoughts on this development:

  1. Test-Optional is not test-blind. Amidst all of these changes, it is important to note the difference between test-optional and test-blind. A school that announces that they are test blind, like Loyola New Orleans, is not going to include any standardized testing as part of the student’s file. Here is an excerpt from their admissions website:
    “Loyola has adopted a test blind admissions process. This means that we do not require a standardized test score for our admission application and we will not consider a test score, should a student choose to submit one. In test-blind admissions, the SAT or ACT score is not considered for admission or merit scholarship decisions. This will allow the admission process to be more focused on GPA, academic rigor, student involvement and the student’s personal statement. Read our test blind FAQs to learn more about our admissions process. “If you are applying to a school that is test-blind, students with test scores do not have any advantage. Standardized test are not part of the application at a test-blind school. This is an important distinction.

2. Test-optional does not mean that test scores do not matter. Test-optional schools will still look at students that have scores and if the results are good, those students might  have an edge. Cornell University has offered a test-optional plan for 2021 but on their website it says:

         “As appears to be true at test-optional colleges and universities, we anticipate that                     many students who will have had reasonable and uninterrupted opportunities to take the ACT and/or SAT during 2020 administrations will continue to submit results, and those results will continue to demonstrate preparation for college-level work.”

Students with good test scores will have an advantage at test-optional schools. This should not be a surprise. The colleges have made an effort to alleviate stress by offering a test-optional plan in these unprecedented times but the reality is that strong test scores will always be well-received.

3. Athletes might need scores at a test-optional school. Cornell explicitly states on their website that while they are offering a one year relief from requiring test scores, as a member of the Ivy League, athletes will still be obligated to submit test scores. If you are a recruited athlete, you need to communicate with your school to determine if standardized test scores are required.

4. Merit scholarships are often based on test scores. If you are applying to colleges and counting on being considered for merit scholarships, you will want to reach out to individual institutions to determine if standardized tests must be submitted to be awarded a scholarship or if they will evaluate your profile for an award without test scores.

5. The University of California system has been exploring the elimination of the ACT/SAT. If this happens we might see a turn of the tide where the standardized testing machine goes the way of the dinosaur. Lynn O’Shaughnessy writes about this here and you can also read about it here, in Inside Higher Education.

I applaud the colleges for turning on a dime and taking steps to allay stress for students. I will wrap this up with another quote from the article that I cited at the beginning of this post, from Yoon S. Choi’s piece in Inside Higher Education, “Words Matter“.

 “…we shouldn’t keep calling the test “optional” when we know a good score will increase students’ chances of getting into college, paying for college and graduating on time.

What is the takeaway here? We can only do as much as we can but I am advising my students to make every effort to sit for the SAT or the ACT in the fall and try to earn the best score that they can.


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