September 20, 2021
What Does It Mean for Colleges To Be “Test Optional?"

What Does It Mean for Colleges To Be “Test Optional?”

While colleges can’t fix all of the problems from a global pandemic, many have decided to ease admissions by going test-optional.

The last year has been challenging for students across the country. From having their regular classes interrupted to missing sporting events to having standardized testing delayed, it’s been a rough go.

What Does It Mean To Be Test Optional?

Most students and parents are well aware of the standardized tests that most colleges use to help make admissions decisions. Every year, students sit for the SAT and/or ACT in hopes of helping their chances to get into their dream schools, obtain scholarships, and earn bragging rights among their friends.

Some colleges have decided that they will no longer require one of these standardized tests for admissions purposes. Students can still take the exams and submit their scores, but the results won’t play as big of a role as they used to.

Of course, test-optional colleges aren’t completely new. The first school, Bowdoin College, did away with test requirements over 50 years ago. In the last few years, larger schools made similar decisions: American University, George Washington University, and the University of Chicago are just a few examples.

With the recent health crisis, many other colleges have followed suit. Some want to ease the burden of a pandemic-stricken world, while others have been waiting for the right moment to make the change. Williams College, USC, Tufts, and the University of California are prime examples.

What Does Test-Optional Mean For My Application

Without standardized test scores, colleges are going to look closely at other parts of students’ applications. The admissions teams want to gather as much information about you as possible. The ultimate end could be good or bad for students, depending on their entire application.

Students who relied on their test scores to make up for the lack of extracurriculars or average GPA will have to find other ways to improve their application packet. At the same time, students who do well in school but struggle with major tests might find themselves in a better position.

Many students will feel like they have a better chance of getting into more schools, but that may not be the case. Schools that are historically selective will most likely be just as selective. The University of Chicago actually reported a lower acceptance rate after they moved to a test-optional admissions system.

How Can I Make My Application Stand Out?

Since schools will be looking at applications in more depth, there are few things students can do to help stand out. Keep in mind; the admissions team is simply trying to evaluate whether you’ll be successful at that particular university.

Here are some things they’ll look at:

  • Getting excellent grades in challenging courses
  • A commitment to learning, especially when it pushes the student
  • The results of other college and university-qualifying tests, like the AP exams
  • The care and authenticity of their personal statements and writing submissions
  • Letters of recommendation and insight from secondary school staff

Expect The Changes To Continue

While the world is in constant flux, don’t get too comfortable in any single admissions system. Things could easily go back to normal once COVID is a thing of the past. Schools may also enjoy the fresh process of admitting students and remain test-optional.

If you’re unsure what a particular university expects, don’t be afraid to reach out to the admissions team and ask. Keep in mind; the changes are affecting them just as much as they are affecting you.