Here's What Test-Optional Means For College-Bound Students
Last week, the University of Chicago announced that it will no longer require SAT or ACT scores for undergraduate applicants from the US. UChicago is one the of the first major research universities to announce a test-optional policy, but test-optional and test-flexible admissions have been around for a long time. What exactly does it mean and how does it affect applicants?
What Does Test-Optional Mean?
When a college or university is “test-optional,” it means that they don’t require SAT or ACT scores from applicants in order to be considered for admission. While many colleges require SAT or ACT, and even SAT Subject Test scores as part of the application process, there are over 1,000 colleges and universities in the US that either don’t require them, or have more “flexible” testing requirements for undergraduate applicants. Each school’s test-optional policy is different, so it’s important to do your research to make sure if a school is truly test-optional, or if there’s some circumstance that will require you to still submit SAT or ACT scores in order to be considered for admission.
According to NACAC, grades and test scores are the most important factors that colleges consider when evaluating applicants, so without the test score component, more emphasis is put on grades and courses, as well as “soft factors,” like essays, recommendations, activities, and more. In the case of test-optional admissions the holistic review process becomes more focused on academic performance and students’ goals and who they are as a person – rather than how they did on one exam on one Saturday morning.
What is Test-Flexible?
Not all colleges with varying testing requirements are truly “test-optional.” Many are considered “test-flexible,” which means that they may require certain test scores from certain applicants, or that even though test scores are required as part of the application they’re not weighed as heavily the application evaluation process. Examples include requiring SAT or ACT scores for out-of-state applicants, certain majors within the college or university, or if a minimum GPA isn’t met. Again, it’s critical for students to do thorough research on testing requirements when building a balanced college list, especially if they struggle with reaching their goal score on the SAT or ACT.
Why Consider Test-Optional Colleges?
Test-optional or test-flexible colleges and universities can be attractive options for students who have strong academic records but are not the best test-takers. Test-optional admissions practices allow students to show who they are as a person and how they will contribute to the campus community, without wondering if one score on one exam will keep them from again admission their target, reach, or likely schools. While students should still strive to reach their goal score on the SAT or ACT, we advice students not to take either test more than three times, as scores tend to plateau after the third attempt. If a student is struggling to reach his or her goal score and has taken either the SAT or ACT three or more times, it could be time to consider adding some test-optional or test-flexible schools to his or her balanced college list.
Test-Optional Admissions and International Applicants
Unfortunately for international applicants, most test-optional policies do not apply. In most cases, like with UChicago, while SAT or ACT scores are not required for undergraduate students from the US, they will still be required for international applicants. This can also include TOEFL or IELTS scores. So while test-optional admissions policies can be attractive to prospective applicants, it’s important to know that those policies often don’t apply to international applicants. International students need to do their research in order to have a clear picture of the testing requirements at the US institutions to which they plan to apply.
For more information on applying to US universities as an international applicant, download our free International Guide to US Admissions here.
Building your balanced college list is a critical component of the college prep process, and it’s important to take into consideration things like fit, your academic record, and your testing performance when deciding where to apply and your chances of gaining admission. Considering test-optional or test-flexible schools can be a great addition to your balanced college list if you’re struggling with reaching your goal SAT or ACT scores.
At IvyWise we work with students to evaluate their entire applicant profile and build a list of best-fit target, reach, and likely schools. If you’re worried your test scores might affect your admissions chances, or you’re interested in applying to test-optional schools, contact us today for more information on our college counseling services.