Applying to Test-Optional Colleges

Curating the perfect college list can take a lot of time and research. You want to be sure you’re picking schools that you have a reasonable chance of being admitted to. This means that your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and personal statement are a match for the school. In light of recent events and the pandemic, test scores are not being prioritized in the 2020-21 application. Because of this, students are questioning whether to apply to test-optional schools, while others are running to it. This poses its own risk by excluding what used to be a pivotal part of the application process. Let’s break down what we know about test-optional colleges and how to apply.

What is a test-optional school?

A test-optional college or university is an institution that doesn’t require students to submit SAT or ACT scores. Students can send in their test scores if they think they are strong enough to influence their admission decision.

A test-blind college or university is an institution that will not consider test scores even if you submit them. Test-flexible schools allow you to submit other test scores in place of the SAT or the ACT such as an SAT subject test.

You’re probably thinking they don’t actually mean it when they say test-optional but trust us, they mean it. According to US News, test-optional schools will treat a student’s test scores as an additive rather than the main part of their application. This means that all other aspects of the application will hold more weight. This includes grades, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, college essays like the Personal Statement, and letters of recommendation. 

It’s important to remember, not submitting your scores to a test-optional college will not be held against you in the eyes of the admissions officer!

Some students will be surprised to learn which schools are test-optional. Due to COVID-19, many schools have gone test-optional for the next admissions cycle. Other schools have been test-optional and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Some shockingly test-optional schools include:

In addition, the entire University of California system has decided to go test-optional through 2022 and will reevaluate then.

Why apply to a test-optional school?

You always want to present your best self to your applications. Your application should be a positive representation of you as a student and a person. Many students feel that standardized tests don’t accurately reflect them and universities are starting to take notice. Recent studies by Stanford University have shown that standardized tests do not accurately measure a student’s intellectual ability.  Another study by Georgetown University found that if test scores were the only factor in the college admissions process, only 53% of the students currently admitted would still be. Test-optional schools allow you the opportunity to apply without the added pressures of possibly low test scores. 

Let’s be honest.  It’s possible you didn’t study or didn’t sleep well the night before. Maybe you’re not a good test taker. Or maybe, you just don’t perform well on the test and that’s okay. This shouldn’t be a blockade to you getting into a good school. 

Applying to a test-optional college or university gives you the chance to focus on your strengths. You can really emphasize your love for volunteering or your passion for the arts. Test-optional schools allow you to show your best attributes and display only the most positive pieces of information. This means that if you’re choosing to leave pieces out, the remaining parts need to be in their best condition. 

How to apply to a test-optional school?

Applying to a test-optional school is the same as applying to any other school except you get to choose if you want to share your test scores. If you scored a 1530 on your SAT and want to apply to Yale for the 2020-2021 school year, you should submit your scores. But if you scored a 1230, you should probably just leave it out and focus on other parts of your application to shine. This doesn’t mean a 1230 won’t get you admitted but that score falls below the average admitted student and will need additional pieces of your application to display the kind of student and applicant you are. This is why test-optional schools can be beneficial to some students. It gives you the opportunity to choose.

If you choose to leave out test scores, here are some things you should be focusing on instead to ensure your application stands out:

  • Grades and transcripts: Even if a school is test-optional you still want to curate a list of schools where your average GPA matches their average admitted student GPA. Of course, we recommend making a list of safety, reach, and match schools, but you still want to have an idea of where you’ll fall in this lineup. Admissions officers will be looking at this to determine if you are prepared for the rigor of college.
  • Letters of recommendation: Your letters of recommendation will hold a lot of weight in the test-optional application process. It will serve as an indicator of the kind of student and person you are from another person’s perspective. Anyone can study for a test and get a good score, but the way someone perceives you and your relationship with them is unique.
  • Extracurricular activities: Your level of involvement in high school is extremely important in the college admissions process. It’s likely they will look at your extracurricular activities and make assumptions about your personality. If you’re president of multiple societies, they can assume you have excellent leadership skills. If you have been part of the drama club all four years they will assume you are able to commit to something long term. 
  • Personal statement: This might be one of the most important parts of your application when your test scores aren’t used. The personal statement will bring personality and humanize your entire application. The story you decide to tell admissions officers can help bring your application to life and might be the determining factor between an acceptance and a rejection.
  • Supplemental essays: How you respond to the school’s specific questions will show how committed you are to that specific institution. If you display interest and can speak in specific terms it will be a huge factor in determining the fate of your application. 
  • Additional information section: The college application includes an “additional information” section that allows you the opportunity to provide further information to the admissions officers that wouldn’t otherwise come up in your application. Use this section to explain things like a bad grade, to talk more in-depth about an extracurricular activity, or to describe a class you enjoyed. This provides more context to your entire application so use it wisely. 

So, should I apply to a test-optional college?

If you’re still wondering if test-optional schools are for you, the answer is probably yes. You should have a healthy list of 7-12 colleges you’re applying to anyway and including a test-optional school won’t hurt. Even if you are a strong test taker, a test-optional college allows you to submit them.

Most competitive colleges during the 2020-2021 application cycle will be test-optional anyway. But even as a freshman, sophomore, or junior you should still be diversifying your college list. In addition, you should be viewing yourself as a whole applicant and not just through the standardized test lens. 

If you need help applying to colleges or want to learn more about test-optional schools, Prepory’s college admissions coaching program can help you through it.

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At Prepory, we recognize there is more to college applications than demonstrating interest. Contact us now to learn more about how we can guide you through each part of the college admissions process!