What to Know about Test-Optional Schools

by | Nov 3, 2021 | College Admissions, College Applications | 0 comments

For a long time, taking the SAT or ACT was just a standard step in applying for colleges, and many students began prepping for them years in advance. After all, these tests could determine everything from acceptance to scholarship opportunities. College admissions was, and in a large part still is, a numbers game, and standardized test scores made up a huge part of the equation.

As test prep became more and more formalized and students — especially those with the financial means and the spare time — spent more and more time preparing before the big exam, questions about equity arose. Was it really fair to compare scores when some students had spent years preparing and others hadn’t?

Those questions of equity were the tip of an iceberg. As research continued to show bias in standardized tests, many critics questioned whether it was fair to use the ACT or SAT as benchmarks for college acceptance at all.

As the debates raged on, some schools quietly adopted policies of not requiring the scores as part of their admission process.

During the pandemic, many students were turned away from test sites — some of them unexpectedly and suddenly. Schools started to adopt even more flexible policies when it came to the necessity of test scores, and the list of schools with test-optional and test-flexible policies grew.

With the trend already moving in that direction, it’s highly likely that many of these schools will maintain their updated testing policies even as test centers open back up and more normal enrollment processes return.

What does that mean for you?

Understand Different Testing Policies

First, it’s important to note that just because a school does not require an ACT or SAT score does not mean they won’t accept it. There are three primary kinds of testing policies in place:

  • Test-optional– As the name suggests, schools with these policies have made test scores optional, but they will accept them as part of the overall admission package if submitted.
  • Test-flexible– These schools will often require some kind of testing, but they will accept alternatives to the ACT and the SAT.
  • Test-blind– These schools do not consider test scores as part of their admission process. If they are submitted, they will be ignored.

What About Scholarships?

For many schools in the early days of adopting flexible and optional testing policies, the new attitude didn’t apply to scholarships. Merit-based awards often still required traditional test scores even if getting accepted did not.

Now, however, trends are shifting. More and more schools are moving toward flexible testing policies even for merit-based scholarships. Students are asked to create an application with a myriad of pieces of evidence of their scholarship potential, and test scores may or may not be part of that package.

These policies often put the responsibility on the student to curate a portfolio of evidence that best represents them and their abilities. Students will need to carefully analyze their SAT or ACT scores against their other metrics: GPA, letters of recommendation, work samples, etc. Deciding whether or not to include the scores will be a matter of strategic analysis.

Are There Exceptions?

Even test-flexible and test-optional schools have exceptions to their new rules. If a student has a GPA that falls below a particular threshold, they may need to submit test scores. In addition, students hoping to place in advanced classes or opt out of entry level ones may need to use test scores to demonstrate that ability.

The Bottom Line

The main thing to take away from these changes is that you can no longer just assume that test scores are part of the package. This is good news for students who may struggle to showcase their academic talents in a standardized testing format, but it also means that many students will need to find other ways to demonstrate those skills.

Make sure you look carefully at the requirements for the schools you’ve chosen. If test scores are optional, it may still be worth including them once you look at the full picture of your application.




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