By Sophia Kim
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing has been crucial for the health and safety of our community. In an effort to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, SAT and ACT testing centers have closed down and testing dates have been canceled. As a result, many students this year did not have the opportunity to take or retake the SAT or ACT. For the Class of 2021, this issue has caused stress and worry regarding college applications.
Colleges around the US have acknowledged this problem, a situation unique to our time, by becoming “test-optional.” More than 1,500 schools currently do not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores to be considered for admission.
What does “test-optional” really mean? Are colleges being truthful in saying that test scores are really optional? If I have taken the SAT/ACT already, should I submit my scores, even if the application doesn’t require them?
These are completely valid questions. Let’s first start with what it means to be a “test-optional.”
Types of Test Optional Schools
There are several types of test optional schools. One important thing to remember is that no matter what “category” a school falls under, application/admission policies vary from college to college. Be sure to check the specific requirements for schools that interest you.
To check which colleges are currently test optional, go to: https://fairtest.org/university/optional.
Truly “test-optional” colleges do not require students to submit their SAT or ACT scores in order to be considered for admission. Schools that are currently test-optional include the University of Chicago, Wake Forest University, Bowdoin College, Bucknell University, Pitzer College, and Brandeis University.
“Test-flexible” schools allow students to submit scores from other assessments such as SAT Subject Tests or AP tests in place of the SAT and ACT. Schools that currently fall under this category include NYU, Middlebury College, Drexel University, and the University of Rochester.
“Test-blind” schools are colleges that will not consider your SAT or ACT scores even if you submit them. These schools try to de-emphasize the importance of test scores in determining a student’s merit, however test-optional schools are much more common. Some examples of currently test-blind schools include Hampshire College and California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Some colleges guarantee admission if an applicant has a certain class ranking or GPA. These schools typically require a student to be in the top 10% of their class or have a 3.5 unweighted GPA. However, as I stated earlier, each college has its own set of policies, so be sure to check.
Now that we’ve differentiated between these different admissions policies, let’s discuss some common questions regarding test-optional schools.
Does test-optional really mean test-optional?
Parents and students this year may be skeptical about whether colleges will really be impartial in choosing between students who have included their scores and those who have not. This is a fair question.
According to Robert Schaeffer, interim Executive Director of FairTest, test-optional schools will not penalize students who do not submit scores. Schaeffer says, “It is important for students, their families, and counselors to understand that ‘test-optional means optional.’ In other words, students who do not submit results from standardized exams will neither be advantaged nor disadvantaged.”
The National Association for College Admission Counselors (NACAC) agrees with this sentiment. In fact, NACAC released a statement in August 2020 confirming it. Over 470 representatives from colleges around the country have signed the statement to confirm that students applying to their schools will not be penalized for excluding SAT/ACT scores. You can check the list of colleges that participated here: Test-Optional Means Test-Optional. Through the document, Angel B. Pérez (CEO of NACAC) wanted to show students that colleges will be true to their word: “I decided to create the statement and circulate it among schools because I have heard from our high school counselor colleagues that their students just don’t believe that test-optional schools really mean it.”
Should I include my SAT/ACT scores even if the school is test-optional?
If you have taken the SAT or ACT already, you may be wondering whether you should include your scores in applications or opt to exclude them.
This is a decision that students have to make based on other factors. Most sources state that strong test scores will always strengthen an application. Therefore, students must think about whether their scores would positively contribute to their application overall. It is important to note that if an applicant does not submit SAT or ACT scores, college admissions counselors will have to rely more heavily on other aspects of their application such as GPA, course rigor, and personal statement.
Additionally, students may want to include SAT or ACT scores if they are looking to receive merit scholarships. For the most part, colleges award merit scholarships based on test scores. However, there are certain colleges that have modified the scholarship requirements because many students have no scores to send. Penn State, Miami University of Ohio, University of Maryland, and Indiana University are among those colleges that will not be looking at SAT/ACT scores to award merit scholarships to incoming freshmen. However, keep in mind that most colleges will continue to use SAT/ACT scores to determine who will be awarded these scholarships and how much money they will receive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had so many unexpected effects on all of our lives. Who ever thought that one day students would be able to apply to college without an SAT or ACT score? These really are bizarre times. I hope this article answered some questions and relieved some stress or confusion. Please be sure to wish our seniors the best of luck in their college application processes!