What is test optional for college admissions and when should a student take advantage of this?
First, realize that test optional does not mean that admissions decisions are test blind. A test blind policy means that SAT or ACT scores are not used at all for admissions. For example, the University of California will not use test scores to make admissions decisions or award scholarships. However, test blind admissions is rare.
Test optional means that the college will consider an application complete with or without test scores. Students who do submit scores will still have those scores considered as part of their application.
In 2020, most colleges used some kind of test optional practice, because students simply didn’t have the chance to take tests because of Covid-19. Most colleges discovered that their incoming class was still highly qualified. Some schools had huge increases in numbers of applications because students didn’t feel held back by lower scores.
Colleges put greater weight on factors such as GPA and course rigor, class rank, essays, extracurricular activities, and recommendations. They may also consider state of residence, legacy status, first generation college status, demonstrated interest, and if a student is likely to need financial aid.
Who Should Consider Applying Test Optional
Students who do not have SAT or ACT test scores. Obviously, you can’t submit scores from tests you couldn’t take.
Students with test scores that are not a good reflection of their ability. For these students a review of GPA and other factors may better represent their potential for college work. Students with special needs may also want to consider requesting accommodations during testing. Approval is now automatic for students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan.
Students might want to submit test scores if they have strong scores that add to the strength of their application. This would include scores above the average score for the college. Students applying to competitive direct entry programs may find strong scores help their application.
Some programs still use scores for eligibility. This may include programs like nursing or education with a state requirement for testing. It can also include competitive scholarships like the Georgia Hope/Zell Miller scholarship or the Florida Bright Futures scholarship.
Some colleges prefer to get test scores for students with less traditional academic records. This can include homeschoolers, students from schools that use evaluations other than grades, and international students.
Keep in mind that a test optional or even test blind policy does not mean a college will increase the size of the next freshman class. It shifts the emphasis of the application to other factors. You can’t control the availability of seats at an exam, but you can control the time and effort that goes into creating a thoughtful college list, into writing essays and writing supplements, and into timely and complete application submissions.