5 Things to Know: Colleges Going Test-Optional

Is Test-Optional A Good Thing?

Most colleges use test scores as part of their application review. However, the vast majority of colleges have gone “test-optional” and are suspending their requirement of the SAT and ACT test scores for the high school class of 2021. This is news can help alleviate some of the stress high school students may be feeling. 

I’d like to point out that the concept of colleges being “test-optional” doesn’t mean they are “test blind.”

Colleges still like test scores. They know that academic programs vary from city to city and even from high school to high school in the same city! Standardized tests measure student performance on what some call a ‘level playing field.” It must be said, however, that many studies have proven that a student’s performance on standardized test scores is linked to their parents’ education, socioeconomic status, and access to resources. 

Okay, on to the topic of the day…

1. What Does Test-Optional Mean?

When a college says they are “test-optional,” that means that the college will consider your application complete and review it whether or not you declare your test scores on the application. 

2. Who Benefits from the Test-Optional Movement?

The Universities

  • It is beneficial for colleges to be test-optional because they typically receive a surge in applications. If students know tests are not required, they’ll think, “Why not apply? It can’t hurt!” A surge in applications, however, does not mean a surge in spots at the university. The university will have to deny more applicants which in turn makes them a more “selective” college. 
  • Universities benefit from being “test-optional” because students who do submit their test scores tend to be high scorers.. The university can then report the strength of its applicants to popular outlets like US News and World Report. The strength of their applicants helps them in their ultimate ranking.

Many Students

  • Overall, the student who is worried about their scores benefits from a “test-optional” scenario because the student’s application will still be reviewed.
  • High-achieving students who, for one reason or another, are weaker test takers. Not submitting scores keeps them in the running!

Strong Test Takers

  • The students who are strong test takers and submit their scores to a “test-optional” college are in a great position to shine. Human bias towards a high SAT or ACT test score can color the reading of the application in the student’s favor. 

3. Why are colleges going test-optional now and will they stay that way?

The first part of this question is an easy one to answer. COVID -19. Colleges are trying to relieve the stress surrounding the current uncertainties. They want to make it easy for the college freshman class of 2021-2022 to apply this coming Fall.

Will colleges permanently switch to being test-optional? The UC system has strongly said that they are not “test-optional” but rather that they are suspending the SAT/ACT requirement for the high school class of 2021. Other colleges have said they will be “test-optional” for one year, others will try it out for three years. Remember, many universities were “test-optional” even before the pandemic hit. 

4. Should a student still try to take a test? 

In short, “Yes.” 


  • If you are a strong test taker, your scores will only strengthen your application.
  • If you are looking for merit aid, your scores will help you in receiving scholarships. Merit aid is given to students with a strong academic record – test scores are part of that record.
    • Merit aid awards vary from college to college, but typically the largest awards available are given to students who are in the top 25% of the admitted class. [I’ll have a blog post about how to get large scholarship awards soon.]
  • The College Board and ACT, inc are hoping to offer these tests for the last five months of this year, even saying that they will try to develop an on-line version of the tests (much like the College Board did for the May 2020 AP tests).

However, if you really can’t take the test for whatever reason, be confident that your application will still be considered at the vast majority of universities. 

Are you thinking,”Okay. I want to take a test. Which one should I take?” Check out THIS blog post.

5. Who should submit a test score?

As I mentioned above, strong test takers should submit scores. Who is a strong test taker? 

  • Anyone who is above the mid-50%ile for that individual college is considered to be above average and thus a stronger candidate. The strongest students are in the top 25%ile range.
  • Using several sources, DJ Educational Consulting can help you determine if submitting your scores will be beneficial to your application. You can also work with readily available guides like the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2020 to figure it out on your own.

“Sylvia is a phenomenal college counselor. She is patient, kind, organized, and extremely knowledgeable about the college application process." - Susie

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