Why some colleges are going "test optional" and how it will impact your child
Written by Ben Marley on Dec. 18th 2019
For a long time now, critics of standardized testing have claimed that it unfairly represents student abilities based on family income. This makes sense- test prep works, so students from families that can afford tutoring and test prep earn higher scores.

Some schools are going test optional in an attempt to "rectify" the inequality. But, it's not all magnanimous; there are a number of financial benefits for schools (and potential pitfalls for students) in going test optional as well. Students who previously didn't feel that they had high enough test scores to get in are now more likely to apply because they don't have to submit their scores. This is beneficial for colleges in a couple of ways. 1. Test optional colleges receive a higher number of applications and therefore collect an increased total of application fees. 2. These test optional colleges still have room for the same number of students each year, so with an increased number of annual applicants, they are able to admit only the same number of students, which results in a lower admittance rate. Going from admitting 20% of students to 15% of students makes a college appear more selective, which they can use to bolster their marketing efforts. All around, the test optional policy seems like a win for schools.

But what does it mean now for students trying to get into these test optional colleges?

For students with low test scores, this may be good news. However, they should be careful. According to a report offering data from 28 colleges and universities with nearly 1 million applicants over a multi-year period, the 25% of students opting not to submit scores were slightly less likely to be admitted to the colleges to which they applied. First year grades were also slightly lower for non submitters, but they graduated at equivalent rates or sometimes even slightly higher rates than did those who submitted test scores. However, to graduate you must first get in.

Students with high test scores should be relatively unaffected when applying to test optional schools or schools that still require standardized tests. However, if any of these students apply to test blind schools, they should watch out. Test blind schools don't even look at test scores, so high scoring students lose an advantage that easily sets them apart.

And what about students in the middle? For students with average test scores, the news is a bit mixed. Keeping the lower admittance rates of non submitters in mind, if your test score doesn't necessarily set you apart, you may still want to submit it, as long as it falls within the average range of students previously admitted to the university (something easily Googleable- average SAT scores for admission to USC, for example).

Ultimately, no matter where you fall within standardized test performance or what school you are applying to, you will need a way to set yourself apart from the other students. Whether you find this in exceptional grades, leadership roles, volunteering, sports, art, music, summer programs, or some other special talent or ability, take time to figure out how the thing that makes you unique fits into the overall narrative of who you are. Then, simply demonstrate how your narrative makes you an ideal fit for your desired university, and you should be good to go. 

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed about crafting your personal narrative, we’re happy to help. Let’s get your child on the road to their successful future. Start a conversation with us today.

Ben Marley


Ben Marley helps families successfully navigate the college admissions process.  He is an expert at helping students find the right college using online methods and making things super simple to understand.
If you're interested in being 100% certain of your child getting into the college that's right for them, then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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