Is Test Optional Really Test Optional?

May 25, 2022
College Admissions

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 and the subsequent cancellation of SAT and ACT exams around the world, many colleges adopted test-optional policies. This means that they no longer require students to submit their scores with their college applications. While students who consider themselves poor test-takers may welcome this news, there are some other factors that should be considered when applying to a test-optional school.

Comparison to Peers

Your decision to not send your test scores to a school (or to not take a test at all) should be considered within the context of your peers. Let’s say that at your high school, you and ten of your peers are applying to a given top school. Your peers took the SAT and ACT, scored extremely well, and will be submitting their scores. You, however, did not score as well or chose not to take the SAT or ACT, and thus will be submitting your application without scores. This will ultimately be noticed, though different colleges may view this lack of testing differently depending on their own internal values, especially if you are, let’s say, exceptional in some arena the college values, whether at a specific sport or a specific academic area. But because colleges will compare you to your high school peers, not having scores will ultimately either be a negative or a neutral depending on your candidacy and the college considering this information. If a majority of your peers are taking the SAT or ACT, some colleges will expect you to, as well.

Average/Median Scores and Statistics

Competitive schools want to keep their average test scores high, even if they have gone test-optional. Therefore, if your score is lower than the school’s median, it probably is best not to submit it. However, as previously stated, if your peers are submitting scores and you are not, this may decrease your overall chances of being accepted if you have otherwise similarly attractive profiles.

Are You Confident With the Rest of Your Application?

If you do not submit test scores while others around you are, it is important that other parts of your application are stellar enough to compensate for this. This means that your high school GPA, AP scores, activities, personal statement and supplemental essays become even more critical to painting a picture of excellence. Also keep in mind that, even with test scores, because you have so many students applying without them, you have a whole new pool of applicants competing for the same spots for which you are applying. If those applicants have stellar levels of achievement and demonstrated excellence, they may very well edge out some applicants, whether test-optional or not.

Other Considerations

Some schools may require test scores for certain merit scholarships as well as a prerequisite for certain academic programs or majors. It is also possible that some schools will expect to see additional materials (extra recommendation letters, examples of research, etc.) in lieu of test scores that attest to one’s abilities, especially when it comes to quantitative and verbal skills. International applicants to some schools may still be required to submit test scores. It is important to take all of this into consideration before making the decision to apply as a test-optional candidate.