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Standardized tests for college can be stressful. College applicants and their parents have long fixated on student scores and their impact on college admissions. They are certainly a factor in admissions, but they are not the only factor, nor are the most important part of a student’s college application. While colleges have always used multiple criteria to assess applicants, some are going a step further by making test scores optional or even waiving score submission entirely.

The move to make test scores optional, to allow students to submit the tests of their choosing, or even to eliminate the requirement altogether further demonstrates that colleges are interested in more than the academic statistics of their applicants. Such news may be especially welcome for students who do not excel on standardized tests, but all students (and their parents) should see the increasing willingness on the part of colleges to forgo test scores as evidence that SAT and ACT scores are not the be-all, end-all of college applications. For more on the test-optional and test-flexible schools, read on.

What does test-optional mean?

Generally speaking, a student does not have to submit SAT or ACT standardized test scores to complete his/her application to the school. Schools have different definitions of “test-optional,” though, and they may have replacement requirements. For instance, one school might require students to include SAT subject test scores or AP test scores in place of the general SAT or ACT. Others might forgo test scores completely, but require students to submit a writing sample instead. It is best to check the requirements of each school before applying to be sure.

For more on test-optional schools, see http://galined.com/archives/poor_test_scores and http://galined.com/archives/applying-to-college-with-mediocre-test-scores.

What does a test-flexible admissions policy mean?

“Test-flexible” is an offshoot of test-optional. “Text-flexible” schools require test scores, but they allow the applicants to decide which test scores they would like to submit as part of the application.

Which schools are test-optional?

Over 850 colleges now have some variant of test-optional admissions policies (for specific policies, students should always consult the website of the school in question). Students can find a complete list of test-optional colleges here: http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional


Are test-optional schools less competitive than other schools?

Not necessarily. Many great schools are embracing test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies. See this list of test-optional schools for a complete list: http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional


Does that mean that I don’t have to take standardized tests?

Not so fast. Unless students plan to apply exclusively to test-optional schools, they will need to take standardized tests. Even then, students may still need to take standardized tests for scholarship consideration. In that case, scores will not be considered for admissions purposes, but they will be a factor for scholarships.


Some test-optional schools may not require students to submit scores for the SAT or ACT, but they may require SAT II tests or AP test scores. Others may have other requirements in lieu of the major standardized tests, such as writing samples. It is important for students to research schools well to determine what each college requires.


What are the advantages of applying to test-optional schools?


Applying to test-optional schools is a good option for students who tend not to do well on standardized tests; applicants do not have to include less-than-stellar scores in their applications and it will not be held against them. However, it is also important for all students to remember that even at schools where the tests are required, student academic performance is the most important factor and that colleges take many other elements—rigor of classes, essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities—into account in admissions decisions.

My test scores are in line with the majority of students at the test-optional school I am applying to…should I submit my scores?

Students who have done well on standardized tests and apply to test-optional or test-flexible schools have the option to submit their scores, and they may want to do so.

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