One of the biggest changes in college admissions occurred as a result of the recent pandemic. The inability of students to attend school in person has an immediate impact on many college policies regarding the use of standardized admissions exams in admission decisions.
Since students could not gather for proctored testing dates in secured settings, colleges adapted their requirements.
There have always been schools that have never required applicants to submit scores due to the debate about how well these tests predict academic success, but many other schools introduced the use of test-optional to allow students to make individual decisions about providing their scores.
Rather than debate the value of testing scores in college admissions, it is more important to understand what optional means for each school. Also, particular college application criteria may change now that students are back in school and have access to SAT and ACT testing dates again.
Colleges with test-optional policies for Fall 2023 students may change to testing required for Fall 2024 applicants. Many colleges have always required test scores for all students applying, so do your research early.
How to Prepare for the SAT & ACT
Just because something is optional does not mean you should not prepare and participate.
While no one enjoys taking a standardized test for three hours, this experience may reveal information about your abilities that your high school transcript does not. Many students with a varied grade average since freshman year may benefit from submitting their scores.
Other students with strong and consistent grades in challenging courses may be candidates to consider holding back results to allow their high school transcripts to be the focus for admission committees if they have lower scores.
In either scenario, all students should participate in PSAT, PreACT, SAT, or ACT testing. If you are nervous about these tests, you can always seek the support of testing coaches, prep classes, and websites for practice before the tests.
You may also feel more comfortable with either the SAT or ACT format, so you should be open to trying each test.
Sending SAT Scores or ACT Scores?
There are still many colleges that require either SAT or ACT scores for admission. It starts with researching your dream college to see if they require tests and how your grades and test scores compare to the academic and testing profile for accepted students.
If your GPA is competitive and you take high-quality courses (Honors, AP, IB, etc.) but your scores fall in the lower 50% of past accepted applicants, you may consider the test-optional.
Websites have this information, but only based on the prior year’s applicant pools, and predicting future admissions cycles can be difficult.
How Are Test Scores Used?
Most people think that SAT and ACT results are only used for college admissions, so before you decide to withhold scores, know that you may need to have them on file for several reasons, including:
🔹 Used for placement in college prep or college-level courses once enrolled
🔹 Required for out-of-state applicants at certain universities
🔹 Needed if GPA or class rank minimum requirements are not achieved
🔹 Entry into specific programs within the college
🔹 Certain scholarship considerations from your state or the institution
🔹 Recruited NCAA athletes
For open-access colleges, such as community and technical colleges, you may need to take some placement test(s) if you choose not to take the ACT or SAT or have acceptable Advanced Placement scores. Again, each college sets its own rules and policies, so do your research early.
Colleges that are test-optional?
Other than looking at each college website, there are places where you can research the colleges that offer test-optional to applicants.
Fairtest provides an extensive listing of over 1,800 colleges that currently offer test-optional or identify schools where no standardized tests are required.
Colleges like students that go above and beyond the bare minimum for graduation. While there are several other factors to consider, such as activities, leadership, extra-curricular, sports participation, music, employment, and other personal achievements, your high school transcript will be the most important item shared. If your scores do not represent your academic performance, check whether your desired college offers test-optional courses. Withholding scores may be appropriate for some students, but consult your counselor, adviser, or coach first.