Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all colleges have waived their testing requirements in response to the limited testing availability. Many have since extended their test-optional policy in an effort to de-emphasize standardized testing and promote a more equitable college application process. This article will briefly explain the test-optional policy and go over four reasons why it might still be a smart idea for you to take these standardized tests.
What Is Test Optional?
Test-optional colleges do not require standardized test scores as part of the application. Applicants get to decide whether or not they want to send in their scores. If you believe that your SAT or ACT scores do not accurately reflect your academic capabilities, you may opt out of reporting your scores or vice versa.
It is important to note that a test-optional policy is different from test-flexible or test-blind policies.
A test-flexible policy does require you to send test scores, but it might allow for different options in place of the traditional SAT or ACT. For example, NYU’s flexible testing policy , states that instead of the SAT or ACT, you can choose to submit one of the following: 3 SAT Subject Scores, 3 AP exam scores, IB Diploma, 3 IB Higher-Level scores for non IB candidates, GCE A-level exams, or other international certifications that show you completed secondary education. Some schools, including NYU, have both test-optional and test-flexible policies.
A test-blind policy does not in any way consider standardized test scores as part of admissions and financial aid decisions. Right now, there are very few test-blind schools, including Hampshire College and notably the University of California system of schools .
Given these test-optional, test-flexible, and test-blind policies, should you still take the SAT/ACT? The short answer is probably, yes. Unless you struggle to afford taking these tests or plan to apply to only test-blind schools and effectively no other, it is a good idea to take the SAT or the ACT. Remember that you can still decide whether to send in your scores after you have taken the test(s).
When NOT to Send SAT/ACT Scores? When Your Scores Are Low!
Low scores that undermine your high school performance are usually not worth submitting. If you believe your scores do not offer an accurate representation of your academic ability and potential, or if your scores fall well below the 50th percentile, you should consider dropping your SAT/ACT scores.
To determine where you are compared to a school’s average student body, look into their admission statistics, which usually include the middle 50% SAT or ACT scores. You may also study information provided by The College Board or Princeton Review. For example, here is Princeton’s Admission Statistics for the Class of 2025. You can compare your performance to the number provided here to determine whether you want to report your scores.
When to Send SAT/ACT Scores?
1. Your scores will enhance your application.
If the other components of your application, such as your GPA or personal statement, are not as strong as you hope, you may want to boost the appeal of your application with a great SAT or ACT score, especially if they fall in or above the 50th percentile at a prospective school. Remember, the purpose of standardized test scores is to help colleges better gauge your academic potential. If you believe that your test scores are more reflective of your ability than your GPA (perhaps you had a difficult year or experienced other extenuating circumstances), it is a smart idea to submit your scores.
2. You are applying to highly selective schools.
If you are applying to colleges with an acceptance rate below 30% and your SAT/ACT scores are within the upper 50% ranges of these schools, you are strongly recommended to submit your test scores. Test-optional schools will still consider submitted test scores, and for highly selective colleges, any small thing can make a difference.
That said, if your scores are not up to par, you may want to decide against submitting your scores, or if allowed, send in alternatives such as AP or IB exam scores instead.
3. You are applying for merit- or need-based aid.
If you are hoping to secure scholarships, especially competitive ones, you should plan to take the SAT or ACT where possible. Many scholarships and financial aid packages are still tied to standardized test scores. Even if they are not, a high score can still give you an advantage. If finances are a concern, you should research fee waivers to see if you are eligible. If you are uncertain whether standardized test scores are considered for a scholarship you are targeting, it is best to contact admission officers or the scholarship committee.
4. You are, or trying to be, a recruited student athlete.
While the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has continued to waive its standardized testing scores requirement following the COVID-19 pandemic, aspiring student athletes should still consider taking the SAT or ACT, as many Division I schools intend to continue requiring test scores. A good test score can also give you a leg up if you are competing for an athletic scholarship.
In summary, for most students, it is a good idea to take the SAT or ACT as you will then have the most flexibility in choosing where to apply to. You can still decide whether to send in your scores after you have received them. Great standardized test scores can provide your application with some much-needed advantage, especially if you are applying to highly selective colleges, competing for scholarships, or are hoping to be recruited as a student athlete.