The truth behind test-optional universities

There have been test-optional universities for the past fifty two years, when Bowdoin stopped requiring its students to submit SAT or ACT test scores. Until the past 18 months, test-optional policies were very rare—93% of universities required scores. In the advent of COVID, most universities have gone test-optional. Since this is a relatively recent phenomenon, it leaves many parents confused.

Many universities have purportedly remained test-optional to increase diversity. What universities may not share, is that they receive many more applicants when they “go test-optional.” This could be an advantage to two different types of universities. First, a university that is struggling financially (especially after losing millions of dollars due to closures in the spring of 2020) can secure students who may not have otherwise applied, thus making them more financially secure. Second, a university that is borderline competitive will show a lower admittance rate due to more applicants, which will make them ostensibly more competitive (and subsequently boost their rankings on US News and World Report).

Ironically, a good test score may be more important now than in the past. How is this possible? When school went virtual, GPA became a less predictive tool than it has been since the concept was first instituted. Why? Because some high schools went pass/fail…some gave everyone As…Even at those that kept their standard scoring, cheating was rampant. I’ve worked with students who would never go to school on test day because they could not get answers from their friends or look up answers online. The SAT and ACT have been the constants in the changing academic environment.

Parents should keep in mind that test optional does not mean test blind (universities that will not even look at scores—whether the score is 400 or 1600) and that a good score will always be more attractive to a test-optional universities. Admissions offices most often assume that a student who does not submit scores did not do so because the scores were bad. My alma mater, for example, admitted 92% more (That’s almost double!) students who applied with scores than without. The best practice is to call the prospective university to see their admissions policy.

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