The Rise in Test-Optional Admissions

The value of employing SAT and ACT scores in the college admissions process continues to be questioned by both schools and students. We’ve seen increasing use of test-optional policies. According to FairTest, over 1,650 Accredited, 4-year colleges, and universities have ACT/SAT-optional testing policies for fall 2022 admissions. This means they don’t require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. These schools decided that factors aside from test scores are better indicators of future success. Selective colleges that have adopted this policy include Bowdoin College—which pioneered this concept back in 1969—Brandeis, Wesleyan, and George Washington University.

While individual requirements will vary, some test-optional schools do require test scores for out-of-state or international applicants, students seeking merit-based financial aid or scholarships, or those pursuing specific majors. Brandeis permits students to submit additional materials like AP and SAT subject test scores and graded papers in place of SAT or ACT scores. Things like recommendation letters, interviews, and writing samples may also be requested. Some colleges require a minimum GPA and a top-class ranking to be able to opt out of submitting scores. Be sure to check individual requirements for each school you’re applying to.

Test-optional schools claim that this policy promotes diversity because it helps students who don’t test well or have access to test prep like other students. Historically, minorities and disadvantaged groups have scored lower on these tests. They are more likely to be women, students with learning disabilities, and first-generation college students.

While increasing diversity within applicants seems to be a noble cause, critics have brought up concerns. Eliminating test score requirement increases the number of applicants, thus the school has to reject more students and in turn, lowers their acceptance rate and making them appear more selective. This improves their standing in rankings like the annual U.S. News and World Report. Studies have shown that making testing optional doesn’t boost campus diversity nor improve graduation rates and average GPAs.

Optional test score submission actually raises the average SAT and ACT scores at a school since only students that test well will send them in. Experts argue that schools should drop testing requirements altogether rather than letting the student decide whether to or not. 

Unlike test-optional schools, test-blind colleges don’t accept standardized test scores from any applicants! According to College Transitions, “the number of test-blind schools increased dramatically in the past year, as COVID-19 forced widespread cancellations of SAT and ACT test administrations.” Find a list of “test-blind” schools here.

When applying to a test-optional university, if you think your score might hurt your chances, just don’t submit it. A good rule to follow is to not submit your scores if they fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the medium score at more inclusive ones. Don’t forget that you may still need to submit scores to qualify for financial aid, scholarships, or class placement determination. The better your essay, grades, and extracurriculars are, the better chances you have at impressing admission without test scores.

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