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Going Test Optional? Taking the Tests? 10 Things to Consider

Colleges across the country are going test-optional, but does that mean you should too?

Kathryn Knight Randolph

February 18, 2021

As colleges go test optional, you may be considering do the same. Find out how you should weigh your decision.
Going Test Optional? Taking the Tests? 10 Things to Consider
The news that has been rocking the college admissions world for the last few weeks are the big name schools that have opted to go test-optional for the 2021 – 2022 application cycle. The Washington Post reports that the University of Virginia, Harvard University, and the University of California, Berkeley, saw huge spikes in admissions applications after they announced they were going test-optional in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many colleges, in response to the ongoing pandemic and application spikes, have opted to extend their test-optional policy for another year. If you are a junior and planning to apply for the 2022 – 23 academic year, you’ll find that schools like Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania, still will not require standardized test scores. It's only a matter of time before other schools follow suit.

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As you prepare to begin the application process in earnest, here are things you should consider about whether or not to take and send in standardized test scores to your top colleges. In some cases, it could actually help your application to not have test scores attached to it, but in other ways, it could hurt.

What To Consider if You Apply Test Optional

  1. It’s Less Stress. If you do opt to apply to schools that are test-optional, your college admissions process will be significantly less stressful. You won’t have to complete any test prep, sit for hours during test day, and then retake the tests when you feel your scores aren’t good enough.
  2. You’re more than a number. You will also be able to craft a college application that represents you better as a person. Sometimes, test scores and GPAs whittle students down to a number, or an admissions formula. Without test scores, you can showcase who you are through your grades in class, extracurricular and volunteer experience, as well as your essay. While those are the positives of going test optional, there are a few other things to consider that might actually hurt you if you go this route.
  3. It limits your college options. If you want to opt out of taking the SAT and/or ACT altogether, it does limit your college choices. According to EdSurge.com, there are over 1,600 colleges and universities that have gone test-optional. For scale, though, there are well over 5,000 schools in the United States. Make sure every school you’re applying to is test optional if you want to avoid taking either standardized test.
  4. It may count against your merit aid amounts. Chances are, colleges that offer merit aid for test scores, but have gone test optional this year, may not consider test scores when distributing scholarships. However, there are other scholarship opportunities that students will forego if they opt not to take standardized tests. The National Merit Scholarship Program awards students with $2,500 based on their PSAT/NMSQT score. Colleges also offer scholarship for achievement on the SAT or ACT, like the University of Missouri’s Mizzou Scholars Award for $10,000 per school year.
  5. You could lose out on valuable college prep work. There are plenty of education experts and advocates arguing against eliminating standardized testing in the college admissions process. They believe that test prep in high school and sitting for the “marathon” tests a few Saturdays during a student’s junior and senior year help to prepare them for college-level work, study, and exam-taking. Plus, these tests actually prepare students for very important standardized tests that might be necessary for their future career, like the GRE, LSAT, and MCAT.
  6. What to Consider if Not Applying Test Optional

  7. You’re a great test taker. Just because colleges are going test optional doesn’t mean you have to. If you do better on tests than you do in the classroom, it may be wise to take the SAT as well as the ACT.
  8. You took a difficult course load in high school. You may also be one of those students that has loaded up your schedule with AP and IB courses, which challenge you academically. Standardized test scores help to show what your grades cannot – how well you measure up against students that are taking average courses. If you have a B-average, but can score in the upper percentiles on standardized tests, it may be worth it to sit for the tests.
  9. Bad test scores count against you. The same is true if you’re not a test taker. If you opt to apply to colleges that haven’t gone test optional, and your scores aren’t great, you have to submit those as part of your college application if you select for the CollegeBoard or ACT to automatically send scores to your school choices.
  10. Send test scores individually. You can, however, opt to send your test scores on their own. This gives you the chance to review your test scores before and decide if they’re good enough for your school choices. It does come at a cost, though. SAT test scores can be sent at $12 per test, while your ACT scores can be sent at $13 per test. You may find that those prices are well worth the cost of putting your best foot forward to the admissions committee.
  11. Send test scores, even if the school is test-optional. If you are applying to a test optional college, but you’re proud of your test scores, send them anyway! You never know when you could be riding the line between being accepted and being rejected. Great test scores will only help your cause. On the other hand, if your test scores are bad, and you’re applying test optional, don’t send them in anyway. They could hurt you in the long run.

The Future of Standardized Tests

Many higher education experts believe this is the slow death of standardized tests, while other hypothesize that going test optional is only a temporary measure because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are pros and cons to both sides. Whatever the future of the tests, the goal is the same when it comes to the college admissions process. You want to look your best and impress the admissions committee. As you begin the process, decide if presenting a standardized test score will help you – or hurt you. That will help you decide whether or not you should pursue test optional schools exclusively or widen your scope.

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