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Test-Optional Admissions: What You Need to Know

By March 3, 2020 No Comments

Anyone paying attention to trends in higher education has probably noticed that more and more colleges and universities are becoming test-optional. On the other hand, there is increasing pressure on students to do well on standardized tests. So how important are scores, really, and what should you make of test-optional admissions?

Here are three tips from Galin’s College Counseling Team:

Don’t Overlook Test-Optional Colleges

There is a misperception that test-optional colleges are not selective or highly-regarded. But that is simply not true. Colleges choose to become test-optional for a variety of reasons, and today more than 1,060 colleges and universities have chosen to de-emphasize standardized test scores in the college admissions process by not requiring any test scores at all, allowing students to choose from a variety of test scores, or guaranteeing admission based on GPA and class rank cutoffs. You can obtain a list of test-optional colleges here, at Fairtest.org, and you will notice that schools as diverse as Indiana University, Bowdoin College, Texas A&M, and University of Chicago are now test-optional.  Depending on what you are looking for in a college, it is likely that at least one test-optional college may be on your list!

Research a college’s testing requirements carefully… and develop a strategy for whether and which scores you will submit

Colleges that de-emphasize standardized testing in admissions have a variety of different policies.  Some colleges are fully test-optional, in that they don’t require applicants to submit any testing at all.  Other colleges are test-flexible, where they might require certain test scores for particular programs or let applicants choose from a variety of tests to submit. It is really important to research a college’s test submission policies and understand them, so that you ensure that you submit the scores that are recommended by the college’s admissions office.  

So, if a college doesn’t require scores, how do you know whether you should send them?  As always, the answer depends on the student and the college.  However, a good general rule is that if you think your scores are a strong reflection of your academic abilities, or if your scores are towards the top of the 25-75% score range for admitted students, then it is a good idea to submit your scores. If, on the other hand, you think that your grades, essays, and achievements outside the classroom are a better reflection of your abilities, then it can be a better idea not to send scores.  This is the type of strategy that your college counselor will help you develop, so be sure to talk about it with your counselor!

Devote adequate energy to the non-academic components of your college applications

When you apply to a college and do not submit test scores, your grades, the rigor of the courses you’ve taken, and your essays will take on greater importance in your application. Therefore, you should make sure that you are devoting enough time to your studies, your extracurricular commitments, and working hard to make your essays compelling and a strong reflection of who you are.

Looking for more advice on which tests to take?

Attend our upcoming Galin Chat What You Need to Know About the ACT, SAT, & PSAT, which will be held on both April 15 and May 20. At this chat, Galin Education founder Zach Galin will discuss what each test is for and why your student may (or may not) want to take it. There will be also plenty of time for Q&A — and with reported changes coming to the ACT soon, this is a can’t miss chat for parents of sophomores.