How Do You Consider Test-Optional Schools?
The list of test-optional schools is growing every day in the new reality of COVID-19. This is understandable; the ACT and the College Board were not prepared for a pandemic. It was too late to find ways to administer a three-hour paper and pencil test under government-enforced policies of social distancing.
Fortunately, college admissions offices have acknowledged this, and made the decision to go test optional. Other schools such as Indiana University and Oregon State University made the decision to go test optional before the pandemic.
The growing list of test-optional schools has been viewed as a positive by counselors and admissions officers. I can understand why: low scores or no scores will not discourage seniors from applying to a “reach school.” However, when applying to test optional schools, consider this rule: the more who apply, the more who will be denied.
It might be easier to apply to test optional schools. A student can submit a completed application, even if s/he has never taken the ACT or SAT. But that does not mean that a test-optional school will have a larger freshman class.
How should you compare test-optional schools?
- When you look at the Fairtest list, do you see schools that might be familiar as well as affordable to your family?
- What are the alternatives to submitting scores that might help you make a case for admissions? Some admissions offices will ask applications to write additional essays or submit examples of graded work.
- Do you want to compete for scholarships to reduce your college costs? There are schools that may still require ACT or SAT scores for all or the larger merit scholarship awards. Visit the Web sites for the schools that have piqued your interest often this summer and fall. Their scholarship policies may change in light of test optional admissions.
- Have you taken other tests, such as AP or IB exams or SAT Subject Tests that show academic strengths that are less likely to be shown on the ACT or the SAT?
- Are you interested in a degree program where you may demonstrate special talents through an audition or portfolio?
- Must you submit the scores after admission, to be placed in classes for the freshman year? It is possible, for example, that a low Critical Reading or Math score might place you in a remedial course that carries no credit.
How will very large and very selective test-optional schools consider your grades when you don’t submit ACT or SAT scores?
An admissions office will look at the grades received in each course and check the course against others in the high school’s catalog that are in the same subject. If your admissions essays mention enthusiasm for a particular subject, or your application has an intended major, a college’s admissions office will expect your grades to reflect your enthusiasm or intentions.
Is it possible to simply pass on the ACT or SAT and not take it at all?
Yes, if your academic record or other talents make admissions possible, and you can highlight those talents in your essays. There’s little value, for example, in standardized testing for prospective visual arts, film, music or theatre majors who have ample opportunity to practice and master their crafts. An excellent math student who wins Math Olympiads can certainly present high math grades. The same is true for prospective Computer Science majors who can already write code in multiple languages.
Admissions offices expect to admit motivated students who are likely to succeed. Its up to those students to prove themselves ready, scores or no scores.
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