If schools are going test-optional, do I still need to take the SAT or ACT?
In response to cancellations of recent SAT and ACT tests, many colleges have adopted temporary or permanent test-optional policies for this fall’s applicants (high school class of 2021). Test-optional schools do not require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their college applications. For the most thorough information on test-optional schools, please have a look at Fair Test.
We think that test-optional is a fantastic policy for students whose test scores do not accurately reflect who they are as individuals and learners. However, on the whole we believe that students who have the ability to prepare for the SAT or ACT and score well will benefit from submitting test scores to colleges.
Here’s why we recommend sticking with the test.
“Test-Optional” does not mean “Test-Blind”
Most schools that have test optional policies still look at students’ test scores. At University of Chicago, the most highly-ranked test-optional school in the US, 85% of applicants still submitted test scores this year. Good scores still have the ability to catch the eye of admissions officials, even at test-optional schools.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to send test scores in a year with an increasing number of test optional schools is to qualify for scholarships. The vast majority of schools that offer merit scholarships base their decisions on a combination of a student’s grades and test scores. For example, the University of Oregon, which is now a test-optional school, offers a merit-based scholarship of of $7500 per year ($30,000 total) for out-of-state students with a 3.6 GPA and ACT score of 25. Bump those numbers up to a 3.8 GPA and a 26 on the ACT and merit-aid package increases to $10,000 per year ($40,000 total). Have a look at Oregon’s merit-based scholarships here.
The University of Oregon, and other similar test-optional schools, have no plans to remove the test score requirements from their scholarship criteria.
UCLA, which has a test-optional policy this fall, receives over 100,000 applications every year. Consequently, the admissions departments at larger schools like UCLA and others do not have ample time to scrutinize the personal statements and resumes for every applicant. Solid grades and test scores allow these departments to quickly winnow the candidate pool down to a more manageable level. While test-optional school may not require scores, it will be very hard for them to abandon their routines and ignore a very qualified candidate with a great test score.
Not everyone comes out of the gates with great grades during their freshman and sophomore years of high school. If a student doesn’t submit test scores, then test optional schools will place much greater emphasis on a student’s grades and GPA. If a student has shown growth and maturity during their junior year, then a high-test score is a wonderful way to reassure the colleges that the strong junior year was a true representation of the student’s aptitude.
In a year when many students will be unable to take the SAT and ACT, high test scores will be far less common than they were in the past few years. Admissions officials will have a hard time shedding the significance they have always placed on high scores, and in a year when they won’t see as many, a high score will really stand out.
Unimpressive Essays or Patchy Resumes
Essays will undoubtedly become even more important in this year’s admissions cycle; however, students who thrive in math and science may not be able to create scintillating essays on par with their exploits in Robotics or Computer Science. For these students, a high-test score will affirm their ability to succeed in the liberal arts courses, and lessen the impact of an underwhelming essay.
Similarly, omitting test scores will attract more attention to the other aspects of students’ applications. By not sending test scores students will draw more attention to their overall resumes (extracurriculars, volunteer work, leadership, etc.). If your resume is super strong all around and your scores are low, that can be a good thing, but if your resume is patchy, this can be a risky move.
Not all schools are going test-optional
Many colleges in the US still require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Even though more schools are moving in the test-optional direction, you’ll still probably need to submit your scores to at least a few of the schools you’re interested in.
Students who submit scores are admitted at higher rates, even at test-optional schools
This study by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling suggests that students who submit SAT and ACT scores to test-optional colleges are admitted at 10% higher rate than students who don’t submit scores.