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Do test scores matter at a test-optional school?

Even if colleges allow students to apply without test scores, that does not mean that they are not looking at test scores. These colleges are not practicing “test-blind” admissions–that is, they will still review test scores from applicants who send them. Having strong test scores will certainly benefit a student’s chances of admission, even at a test-optional college. As a general rule-of-thumb, students who have test scores at or above the median for that college should submit them. 

While hundreds of colleges have test-optional admission policies, especially now, many colleges still require test scores for admission to special programs, like Honors Colleges, or for scholarship consideration. In addition, many major scholarship-granting organizations still require test scores as part of their application process, so, to be eligible for them, students must have test scores.

How do colleges evaluate a “no-test” application?

When colleges evaluate applications that do not include test scores, they must rely on the other components of the application to understand a student’s qualifications. This means that there will be increased scrutiny on that student’s letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities and community involvement, essays, and, of course, rigor or coursework and grades. At highly selective colleges (or at least those that have not recently returned to requiring a score, like Dartmouth or Yale), if a student has strengths in all of these areas but worries that a score is not-so-high, then they are in luck that they don’t have to submit scores!  However, for many students, this isn’t the case. It is also important to remember that, particularly at highly-selective colleges, many applicants do send scores, and they send very high scores. Applications will be evaluated alongside those applications. 

How can students stand out if they really don’t want to submit a test?

Students who are in a position to do so this spring and summer should use any extra time to demonstrate leadership–organizing a new student group or a fundraiser for a particular cause–or dedication to their communities by volunteering or contributing to a community organization. Students who don’t plan to submit test scores should also pay special attention to their essays, making sure their essays are creative, compelling, and well-written.

In Conclusion…

Remember that test scores are just one component of applications to colleges. Even colleges that do require testing acknowledge that test scores are less significant than a student’s transcript in the application review process. But it would be a mistake for students to give up on efforts to achieve a score they are proud of, or to assume that testing no longer matters, in light of the recent announcements from colleges. Instead, students should simply continue to do their best. Work hard to prepare for whatever test dates are available. In the end, it may be that students choose not to submit test scores to some colleges. But by doing their best to achieve high scores, students  will give themselves the best possible chances of admission to their favorite colleges and have the most options available.

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