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SAT Optional: To Submit or Not?

November 3rd, 2014

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SAT Optional: To Submit or Not?

Every year, more colleges join the ranks of those who leave it up to applicants whether to submit their SAT or ACT scores—or not. (For a complete list of such colleges visit It can be confusing for high school seniors to know if this option makes sense for them. Here are some guidelines.

Many juniors and seniors find themselves under a lot of pressure to perform well on the SAT exam.

Submit If You Are In The Range. If an applicant’s test scores fall into the middle 50 percent of the freshman profile then the student should absolutely submit scores. The middle 50 percent range is published in guidebooks such as Princeton Review or on web sites such as

The freshman profile for Connecticut College, for example, reports SAT Scores from 620 to 710. That means 25% of matriculating freshman scored below this range and 25% scored above. So if your score were 620 or higher, you would submit your test scores to Connecticut College. (Note that the 25% whose scores are below the median are typically admitted for special circumstances—under represented demographic, recruited athlete, legacy, etc.)

The Risk Of Submitting Lower Than Median Scores. Keep in mind that when a college is test optional, only those applicants with relatively high scores submit them. This means that the college has a somewhat inflated set of scores to report to rankings institutions such as U.S. News and World Report. So if you report lower than the median scores, your scores contribute to a decrease in the average scores for that college. Why does this matter? Colleges care about rankings and rankings are determined, in part, by average test scores of applicants. Your decision to report lower than median scores may contribute to a drop in their rankings so they may wait list you whereas you may have been admitted had you taken advantage of the test optional program.

The Impact On Your Chance Of Admission. If you choose not to submit scores, be aware that the college will put more emphasis on your transcript and rigor of your course choices in addition to the other elements of your application such as recommendations and

your essay. Let’s go back to our Connecticut College example. Let’s say their average unweighted GPA for students is a 3.6 on a 4.0 scale. If applicant Jane Smith has a GPA of 3.7 or higher, then the lack of test scores may not be of much concern and Jane will likely be admitted. However, if Jane had a GPA of 3.3 and did not report scores then the college might deny her. I would recommend Jane submit her scores to offset her 3.3 GPA if the scores were only slightly below the median, at around a 600 (and hope she has a riveting college essay, a vibrant list of activities, and strong recommendations).

Research shows that there is no statistical difference in the college GPAs of those who submit test scores versus those who do not. For bright students who excel in school, but just don’t’ test well, test optional policies make all the difference.

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