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What you need to know about test optional admissions

student studying at laptop

Some students should still plan to study for standardized testing.

“Colleges will be test optional again this year, so I don’t have to worry about tests, right?”

In our practice, we are asked a variation on this question frequently, and the answer is complicated. First, some background: virtually every college and university in the USA, as well as many international institutions, offered test-optional policies for the 2020-2021 application year due to Covid-related test cancellations. For the 2021-2022 application, most colleges continued with test-optional policies, with a few exceptions.

Most colleges went test-optional…and meant it. Colleges pledged to complete a holistic review of applications regardless of whether students submitted scores or not, and early indications show that this is true, particularly outside the top 100 most selective colleges. Yet even selective colleges such as Boston University reaffirmed test-optional policies for fall 2023 and spring 2024 semesters. In September, Boston College announced an almost even split among enrolled first-year students. with non-submitters making up 49 percent of the class. BC has not made any commitment to remaining test-optional beyond this cycle. The University of California system announced in November an end to standardized testing (ACT, SAT) as an admission requirement. Many colleges, including Harvard University, have extended their test-optional policies for the next few years. For a list of test-optional policies, visit Fairtest.

Many colleges still care about tests. It is important to know that in 2020-2021, a few colleges adopted these policies begrudgingly; they had little choice because of widespread test cancellations. Georgetown University is an example of an institution that highly values testing. For years, most colleges have honored a policy known as score choice where students can choose which of their test scores to submit to the colleges to which they apply. Georgetown never adopted score choice. This year, they required testing again. The public universities in Florida never adopted a test-optional policy and other states, including Georgia, reverted back to requiring standardized testing this year, although Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech, says that students are reviewed holistically and should not be discouraged from applying by their test scores if they are otherwise strong applicants. MIT, though test-optional this year, strongly encourages students to submit scores, saying that scores “help them more accurately evaluate their preparedness for MIT.⁠”

When testing may be less important

Some students, no matter how much they practice, just do not perform well on standardized tests. This kind of testing is simply not the way for them to show what they know. It is okay for students, in consultation with their parents and counselors, to opt out of test preparation. They can still register and take the test if they like. Some students who fall into this category still choose to prepare for an SAT or ACT through a class or with a tutor, which can be expensive given the results that they are likely to achieve. Students should by all means prepare for the tests if they believe such practice will offer them an added benefit.

“We explain to parents that we cannot guarantee score increases because both the SAT and ACT are curriculum-based tests,” said Drew Heilpern, chief brand ambassador at Summit Educational Group. “However, students’ efforts to prepare for these tests often lead to gains in reading comprehension, and particularly math, which benefits their school work as well.”

Please let us know if we can guide you in navigating the test-optional landscape as it relates to the colleges in which you are interested.

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