Understanding Test Optional Schools

The end of the 2020 academic year was messy. AP exams were shortened, and given online to students working from home. SAT subject tests, SAT’s, and ACT’s continue to be postponed, delayed, or even unexpectedly cancelled at the last minute, and new dates have been added to make up for those shortfalls. As a result, many colleges and universities have changed their admissions policies, some temporarily and others permanently, to either Test Optional or Test Blind. What do these terms mean for college applicants, both this year, and moving forward?

Test Optional schools do not require SAT or ACT scores for application. However, if a student did perform well on these tests and chooses to submit a score, that element of the application will be considered, along with other aspects of the student’s application, such as grades, essays, and recommendations. Submitting scores can help with course placement and admission to competitive major programs.

Test Blind institutions go further; they do not require SAT or ACT scores for application, and furthermore, will not consider those scores, even if provided in a student’s application. That means that all the other aspects of a student’s application are considered with more scrutiny: those grades, essays, and recommendations, as well as class ranking, community service, and other holistic elements.

For students who often find the pressure and stress of standardized tests overwhelming, this might sound like a windfall: “No scores needed?” “Awesome!” However, students who apply to a Test Optional school without sending SAT or ACT scores may miss out on scholarship opportunities and Honors programs. It’s not a catch-22: having SAT or ACT scores can help an applicant stand out.

Take a high school junior who wants to apply to a state school as a business major. She took the free SAT through their high school, and while her math score was strong, she feels like her verbal score could be better. She knows the business major program is highly competitive, so she studies, either independently, or through a tutoring program, for three months in the summer, and takes an early fall SAT. Her overall score goes up, and now she is a more attractive applicant both for the school as a whole, and at the competitive business major program. She gets in and earns a merit scholarship!

But what if that state school were Test Blind? Then the student’s efforts would have been better spent on other endeavors for the summer, like working as an intern at a local company to gain experience in the field. Students should know prior to submitting their applications whether a specific school is Test Optional or Test Blind for that admissions year or cycle.

Because of the global pandemic, many schools who had not previously been Test Optional or Test Blind are instituting these changes on a temporary basis. Both Princeton and Harvard Universities will be Test Optional for the upcoming admission cycle. Even many graduate schools are making the change, with many dropping the GRE score requirement for admission.

Each student needs to develop a clear plan of attack for the admissions process. The first step in the plan? Research: choose a major, identify interesting schools, request recommendations, and craft a strong admissions essay. Find out which prospective schools are Test Optional, which are Test Blind, and which may still require standardized test scores for application, then make strategic decisions based on individual strengths and goals. Every student’s journey to college is unique: find out how Silver Oak can help!