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What Does Test-Optional Really Mean for Students?

Yale. Harvard. Columbia. All eight Ivy League colleges have gone test optional for the high school class of 2023, choosing to suspend the requirement for SAT and ACT scores and joining hundreds of other universities, including Stanford, who have also agreed to let students decide whether they want to submit test scores with their application.

“Test Optional” means a student can choose NOT to submit a test score for any reason. Instead of the scores, test-optional schools say they will focus on other facets of a student’s application which will include a student’s grades and course rigor, and may include essays and/or recommendations. College admission readers often see these variables as stronger predictors of a student’s potential to succeed in college.

What are the benefits of taking the SAT or the ACT?

1. Even if they are test-optional, colleges will still consider SAT and ACT scores if students submit them. So if a student submits test scores, the admission office will factor them in. A significant number of applicants still send in their test scores

2. Merit scholarships and private scholarships may require test scores.
Many test-optional colleges still consider test scores when awarding merit scholarships. Private scholarships may also require test scores. By not submitting a test score, a student may hurt their chances of receiving such a scholarship. Do your research to know whether your score falls within a certain college’s admitted student profile, and then decide whether your score will help or hinder your chances of admission and scholarship opportunities.

Should I take the SAT or ACT?

The answer is yes. If students take the test, they can decide whether they want to submit the scores or not.

Keep in mind, easier to apply does not mean easier to get in. Without a test score, your application needs to stand out even more, especially if you are applying to a highly competitive university or for a competitive major. Therefore, if your test score will boost your overall competitiveness, studying for the SAT or ACT may be worth it.

What else should I consider?

1. Colleges set their own admissions policies, but in almost all cases, they want as much information about a student as possible. Therefore, if a student does not submit the test scores, more weight will be given to rigor of coursework, grades, essays, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and achievements. A student’s application needs to set them apart and tell the college why they should be accepted over other applicants.

2. Policies differ among colleges. Some test-optional policies have certain restrictions.

• Know which colleges require test scores for out-of-state or international students. For international students, English language tests will rarely be optional.
• Know which colleges require test scores for students pursuing certain majors.
• Understand that some test-optional schools may determine test-optional eligibility using an index calculated using other factors such as GPA and test scores.
• Determine if you need to submit test scores for placement in the freshman class.
• Submit any additional materials a school requires in place of test scores, such as samples of academic work, scientific research, or additional recommendation letters.

Test optional update

All the Ivies are now test-optional at least through fall 2023 (as are 1,500+ other colleges and universities). For the often-updated list of test-optional and test-blind schools, visit https://www.fairtest.org/

Note that test-optional does not mean “test-blind.” Test-blind means that a school will not look at your scores, even if you submit them. Relatively few schools are test-blind, but all nine campuses within the University of California system are.

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