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Do they really mean it when schools say "test optional?"

Admission Science










Today's question:

Some of my target schools have gone test optional. Should I still take and send SAT/ACT scores?

Answer:

If you're aiming for a top college, it can be confusing to decide if you should take the SAT/ACT.

Yes, some colleges say they are test optional... but are they really? Do you still have a better chance if you submit your score anyways?

Today, we'll share some hard data to give you a definitive answer to that question.

The State of Testing Policy (2024)

First, let’s look at the state of testing policy in U.S. colleges:

  • 4% of colleges require students to submit scores

  • 46% are trialing test optional with an end date

  • 42% are test optional without an end date

  • 2% are trialing test blind policy

  • 6% are test blind without an end date

Test optional means if you submit a score, the college will take it into account.

Test blind means even if you submit a score, the college will not take it into consideration. Colleges that truly do not care about test scores have adopted this policy.

Based on the data above, 96% of colleges are some form of test optional or test blind.

Hooray—does that mean you don’t need to worry about tests? Not quite. There’s more to the story behind these numbers.

The Fine Print

Let's take a closer look at some of the top colleges that are test optional. What are they actually saying on their testing policy pages?

Well, they all state that students don't need to share SAT/ACT scores if they've been unable to test.

Yet many of them still state the importance of the SAT/ACT in the evaluation process!

For example:

University of Chicago (Test Optional):

"The SAT, ACT.... continue to be an important part of the University of Chicago's admissions process. These tests can provide valuable information about a student. Given that many of our peers do require testing, we anticipate that the vast majority of students will continue to take tests"

Yale (Test Optional):

“Yale’s internal research has consistently shown that ACT and SAT scores are a significant predictor of a student’s undergraduate academic performance”

Princeton (Test Optional):

“Our most promising candidates tend to earn strong grades and have comparatively high scores on standardized tests”

For top colleges, it's very hard to completely pull away from standardized tests as a metric. They run into two main challenges:

  1. There has been a record number of applicants.

  2. More and more students have indistinguishable grades in high school. The College Board reported that 60% of college applicants obtained a 4.0 or better last year.

In other words, test scores remain integral in evaluating academic readiness.

The Effect on Acceptance Rate

Finally, let's look at some preliminary data on acceptance rates for students who submitted scores versus those who didn't.

Here are some highlights:

  • UPenn ED applicants who submitted their scores were 1.8X more likely to be accepted than those who did not.

  • UVA applicants who submitted test scores 1.9X more likely to be accepted than those who did not.

  • Georgetown applicants who submitted test scores were 1.9X more likely to be accepted than those who did not.

  • Notre Dame applicants who submitted test scores were 2X more likely to be accepted than those who did not.

Of course, not every college provided test scores of their students. Plus, students who submitted scores may be more qualified overall than those who did not. So not all of the boost can be attributed to submitting test scores.

Still, the overall takeaway here should be clear. Having a good test score affirms your academic readiness to the admissions officer. And when you're competing with thousands of other applicants, every edge helps.

Ok, so what does this mean for you?

Well, if at least one of the schools on your list is test optional, you should still prepare to take the tests.

When it comes time to apply for colleges, you should use a flexible reporting strategy. This means you should report your test scores depending on the school.

Here's what to do. For each school you're applying to:

  • Find the score range of ACT/SAT of its accepted students. You can Google "SAT range [college name]".

  • If your score falls within that bracket, submit your score to that school.

  • If it does not, do not submit for that school.

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