“Test-optional” is a phrase that began to come up this spring with increasing frequency. The Class of 2021 in particular watched as more and more colleges and universities sent out the announcement that they would be adopting a test-optional policy for this year’s applications. For schools that choose to adopt the test-optional policy, it means they will simply allow applicants the option of submitting their standardized test scores. It is important to note, however, that this is not the same as a test-blind policy, where scores are not considered even if submitted. Test optional means it is completely up to the applicant to make the choice to submit or not. That’s it, a simple checkbox next to “yes” or “no” and standardized tests are no longer a factor in your application… or are they? I had quite a few questions when I first heard this. How will my application be affected if I do not submit my scores? How will I know if I should submit my scores? If I don’t submit my scores might that hurt my application? To find some answers I reached out to several admissions counselors at North Carolina schools and read through admissions pages (such as UNC, App State, NC State, etc). Much of the following advice comes directly from the schools themselves.
The effectiveness of standardized testing as a part of college admissions has been questioned for quite some time. Many argue that standardized testing is not an appropriate method to measure ability since so many subjective factors play into a good score. A test-optional policy is not new. The first school to ever declare a test-optional policy was Bowdoin College in 1969 and they are not the only ones who took this approach before the pandemic. Schools like Emerson, Brandeis, and even the prestigious University of Chicago have turned to a test-optional policy before this year. As well as North Carolina’s own Wake Forest University which adopted this policy in 2008 for all of its applicants. Though this may be the first time this policy has been so widespread, many schools are familiar with it.
But, what is a senior supposed to do about this? Let’s address the first question: “Will not submitting test scores put you at a disadvantage?” Overwhelmingly the answer to this is no, it will not. Choosing to not submit scores will not disadvantage anyone. Schools mean it when they say they are going test-optional. Many added it will not affect eligibility for scholarships or financial aid (however this may vary from school to school). Standardized test scores are only one part of your whole application, not submitting your scores simply means that they won’t have that piece of information to look at. In addition to this, they will not consider your application incomplete without it. Without a standardized test score, they will be more heavily emphasizing things like your activities list, school involvement, extracurricular activities, volunteer service, and your essay. If there is an area of your application you think is weaker a good test score can be a supplement for this. Nonetheless, colleges want to get an idea of your interests, passions, and goals, something test scores don’t necessarily affect.
Many schools pledge to review applications “holistically”. A holistic approach to admissions means that they will look at your application as a whole, where no one factor such as test scores, is a determining factor. Admissions want to get a sense of who you are, not just what numbers can be associated with you. If you choose to not submit your score, it will most certainly not jeopardize your chances of admissions. Many colleges are very aware of the limitations of standardized testing. They know you are more than a number and that number cannot truly measure your intelligence or future success.
So, should you submit your scores or not? The consensus on this matter is to compare your score to the 25th percentile score for the school(s) where you are applying. If your score falls near or above this range it may be a good idea to submit. Another factor you may take into consideration is whether your score is an accurate reflection of your capabilities. Maybe you hadn’t studied before you took the test. Do you think you would have done significantly better if you had a chance to take it again? Perhaps you studied and prepared to retake but your testing center closed. Take all these into consideration when deciding to submit scores.
Newly added on the common application there is a space for you to write how you may have been affected by COVID-19. This could be a great place to explain more about your test scores or any other factor that affected your academic or personal life. If you do not submit test scores, writing a short explanation may help admissions better understand your circumstances. Take advantage of this opportunity and use it to your benefit. This year has brought many complications and every person’s situation is different. College admissions have tried to accommodate this by adopting the test-optional policy. If you have further concerns or questions about your scores or application, I highly recommend reaching out to admissions counselors. Most college websites have contact information for their counselors on admissions pages. Send them an email or set up a meeting time. This can be a great way to learn more about a certain school.
I hope this provides a helpful framework for seniors wondering about the test-optional policy and helps relieve some stress. Good luck with applications!
Here are a couple additional articles on this you may find helpful: