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How Will Test-Optional Admissions Affect My Chances?

OCT 22, 2020

By now, you’ve likely heard that hundreds of colleges and universities (read the full list here) have released formal statements saying they have opted for a test-optional admissions policy. One question we’re receiving right now from our seniors is, “how will this affect my application and impact my chances of admission?”

This change may have come as a pleasant surprise to students that struggle with standardized testing. However, what students may not know is submitting standardized test scores along with their applications may work in their favor. Some test-flexible institutions like New York University and Drexel University do not require SAT or ACT scores to be submitted but may require other forms of proven merit such as an IB Diploma.

Traditionally, colleges and universities have implemented test-optional policies to demonstrate sensitivity and implement accessibility to low-income and underrepresented students, and this year is no different. With COVID-19 disproportionately affecting lower-income areas, students from these areas have had fewer opportunities to register at their local testing centers.

Should I still take these exams?

If you have the option, we’d still recommend taking these exams. First, you never know how you’ll do! If you score well, it is an enhancement to your application if you will be applying in the next two years. And at some institutions, stellar SAT and ACT scores can help you fulfill prerequisite courses like English composition before even arriving on campus. Submitting scores helps portray yourself as being college-ready. Many institutions offer merit scholarships based on SAT and ACT scores - if you’re hoping to earn any scholarships, keep this in mind!

Consider this situation: Two students who are considered equally competitive applicants apply to a university. If one student has submitted a strong SAT/ACT score, and one student hasn’t submitted one, the student who submitted a score will likely be considered a safer choice for the university as they have proven their college readiness.

We recommend for students interested in STEM especially to still take these exams as it benefits the quality of applications greatly to prove you can handle the rigor of higher-level quantitative courses. For students pursuing a STEM path, we recommend taking the SAT Math Level 2 and at least one SAT science subject test (Biology, Chemistry, or Physics).

A large study found that when schools go test-optional, application numbers typically rise by an average of 29% at private institutions and 11% at public institutions (Inside Higher Ed).

Should I submit lower scores?

Remember that test-optional does not mean test-blind. Depending on the schools you intend to apply to, submitting your scores may harm your chances. We typically advise students not to submit any AP scores under a 3. Typically 3’s are considered borderline for top universities. Students should definitely submit their AP scores if they earned a 4 or 5. As for the SAT and ACT, it is quite dependent on the range of schools you are aiming for! For the Ivy League, you’ll want to shoot for at least a 1520 on the SAT and 34 on the ACT. For Top 30 universities, strive for at least a 1350. For top state schools, 1280 is a good target. Generally for the SAT and ACT, students never want to be below the 50th percentile of the distribution of the college or university they are applying to.

What will be evaluated fairly if I don’t submit scores?

If you choose to omit your standardized test scores, it is almost guaranteed that admissions officers will look more closely at your grades, extracurricular experience, and your college essays. This year, more than ever, it’s important to spend quality time on your application, especially on your personal statement and any supplementary essays. If you’re looking for extra support, you may want to consider Crimson’s essay review tool.

The assessment of academics is another key factor to remember when submitting applications. For example, if a student has straight A's and has taken many rigorous AP courses, they have proven college readiness academically so the SAT is less critical. If you have a student who lives in a very competitive area or goes to a very competitive school and has some B's, it may be a result of how intense their school is so they may outperform most students on standardized tests who aren’t in as competitive programs! For students looking to get ahead and extend their education outside of their traditional classroom, check out Crimson Global Academy!

Next Steps

If you’re a senior, hopefully, you have a better understanding of how you can shape yourself on your college applications this year. If you’ve got a year or two before applying, start thinking about how you can get ahead. We recommend students start looking to register for the SAT and ACT as sophomores. With no sign of testing centers reopening to full capacity any time soon, it is important to take these exams early so you don’t run out of time. Don’t know whether you should take the ACT or SAT? Check out this blog.

If you’re a lower-classman and would like to discuss your current profile and what it takes to gain admission to your dream university, schedule a one-on-one conversation with one of our enrollment advisors here.

Shannon F.

Written by

Shannon F.

Shannon completed her Bachelors at Franklin University Switzerland where she majored in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies & minored in Social Justice and Sustainability. Shannon has a passion for learning new languages, environmental and social justice, and immersing herself in new cultures. Shannon has worked in higher education and now works as an Education Coordinator with Crimson. Shannon currently lives in Southern California and enjoys reading, water polo, yoga, and traveling.