Applying Test-Optional? Here’s How to Decide.

Are you thinking of applying test-optional? Did you know that more than 1,000 colleges and universities across the United States no longer require students to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their applications? The first to adopt a test-optional policy in 2018, Wake Forest University said about its decision: “….it’s not that we think standardized tests are evil. We think that the measure of your intelligence and potential requires a deeper dive. It’s about life experience, aspiration, work ethic, engagement and all of what makes you who you are.”

As an increasing number of selective and highly selective colleges go test-optional, it shows that institutions are recognizing that it takes more than a score to show a student’s promise. But before deciding whether or not to apply test-optional, consider the pros and cons of omitting standardized test scores on your college application.


You may be eligible for merit awards.

Some schools may require that you submit scores to qualify for certain merit (non-need based) scholarships. Others may not have such requirements. Be sure to check the policies of individual colleges and universities before deciding to omit or submit your scores.

High test scores can give you an edge in admissions.

Having a high or exceptional SAT or ACT score can make you a competitive candidate. If your score aligns with the middle 50-percentile testing range of students the college accepted for admission in the previous class, then you will be at an advantage. Colleges use test scores to predict how well students will perform in college courses. A solid SAT or ACT score can demonstrate your ability to excel.


Highlight other skills and talents in your application.

Perhaps you didn’t perform well on the SAT or ACT, or you scored below the middle 50-percentile testing range of the college’s admitted student profile. Applying without submitting your scores may give you the mental freedom of your score not being factored into the decision. However, without standardized test measures to show your potential to succeed in college, you will have to balance your application with impressive credentials. Moreover, you’ll need to write essays that demonstrate your writing, problem-solving, and critical thinking abilities, and include recommendation letters that help support your capacity to achieve in college.

Save stress from the SAT and ACT.

I have worked with countless students who have taken standardized exams 2, 3, or even 4 times. I plead with them to stop the standardized test obsession. If you decide not to report scores, then you can focus less on earning a perfect score, and more on coursework, extracurriculars, volunteering, or other standardized exams that lead to college credit like Advancement Placement or International Baccalaureate.

Additional Things to Consider.

These are all points to strongly consider, not just during the application process, but throughout your entire high school career.

Keep in mind that for scholarship purposes, you should take the SAT or ACT at least one time. You may perform well on standardized exams and decide that it’s to your benefit to submit your scores. After all, if you do perform well and don’t send your scores, some believe that colleges will assume you didn’t do well on the exam. This could count against you when you had an opportunity to show your strength as an applicant.

Use this simple checklist for how to know if applying test-optional won’t hurt your chances for admission:

  1. Strong GPA (3.6 or higher) in a robust academic program (Honors, Advancement Placement, and International Baccalaureate classes).

  2. Deep and long-term engagement in after-school activities that show leadership and civic participation (think volunteering and making positive contributions to humanitarian causes you believe in ).

  3. Self-initiated projects that are independent from school activities and show an entrepreneurial spirit (e.g. patents, publishing, etc).

  4. Exceptional essays that tell your unique story.

  5. Powerful letters of recommendation from guidance counselors and teachers who know you well.

  6. Substantial and positive social media presence (e.g. LinkedIn profile, YouTube video collection, created or curated content).

Deciding if you should be applying test-optional or not, it is your choice to make. Use the information provided in this article to help you make a decision. Either way, remember that you are more than your score!

If you are applying test-optional, you’ll need a strong essay. So be sure to read my article about Writing a College Essay.

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