Test-Optional v. Test-Required: Which is the Best-Fit for You?
Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT can create an enormous amount of stress and anxiety for high school students, especially for seniors who see this Saturday as the last chance to knock their score out of the park.
But many schools, especially some selective universities and smaller liberal arts colleges, are increasingly becoming test optional. This means that when applying, you don’t have to report your score. Many students opt for this if their scores were especially low or not up to par with the grades on their transcripts.
As we've said before, classroom ability doesn’t necessarily correlate to a student’s standardized test-taking ability, and those who make straight-As don’t always get near-perfect scores on either the SAT or ACT.
So what’s a student to do?
If you haven’t done that well on the ACT or SAT, but you have solid grades, a great brag-sheet, and good recommendations, you can always consider applying to a test optional school.
There are over 850 colleges and universities that are currently test-optional, and the list is continually growing.
Here’s a sample of some of the more selective test-optional colleges and universities:
So how does test-optional work?
One of the most important things to remember when applying, whether it’s for a test-optional school or not, is that you have to know how to best interpret your scores and how they fit into larger application picture. Those scores are just one component of your complete application.
Some schools recognize, as we said before, that test performance doesn’t necessarily translate into overall performance in academics. And it has been shown that students can be coached and prepped in how to strategically take the test rather than properly exhibit a command of the material that’s on it.
So for those schools that choose not to take scores into consideration for either all or a certain number of applicants within a pool, more emphasis is put on high school transcripts, application essays, recommendations, and extracurricular activities and interests.
For some of these schools, however, scores may not be completely thrown out the window. They may consider scores for certain applicants under certain conditions. Like NYU, for example, doesn’t require test scores if a student submits scores from an SAT subject test, AP, or International Baccalaureate exams. And George Mason will only take scores into consideration when minimum GPA and class rank for an applicant are not met. For these schools, becoming test optional is a way to make the admissions process more holistic and indicative of a prospective student’s potential at the school, rather than just a numbers game.
But why even take the ACT or SAT all?
Yes, standardized test scores are only one piece of the larger college application pie. And if you decide to apply to only test-optional schools you won’t necessarily be reporting your scores. But since many other schools still do require those scores, and scores could be considered for certain applications in a test-optional admissions office, it’s wise to thoroughly prepare for and take the tests in case you need the score for a fall back. And you never know, you might do really well and want to include the score in your applications anyway!