What does test optional really mean

Over the past few months, more schools have announced that they are going test-optional, either for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle or in some cases, permanently. Hearing that may grant a huge sigh of relief, especially with the unprecedented test cancellations over the past few months. But before you completely throw test prep plans out the window, let’s take a look at what that really means for you. 

First, what does “test-optional” mean? Well, that depends on the school. In the broadest sense, it means that the school is allowing the student to decide if they want to submit a test score with their application. If a score is submitted it will be considered, but there is no requirement or penalty for choosing to not submit a score. Without a test score, the admissions committee will look more closely at a student’s grades, rigor of classes, essays, extracurriculars, and recommendations to make their decision. 

This seems pretty straightforward, but it may not be as clear at every school on your college list. Each college’s definition of “test-optional” may be slightly different. Some test-optional schools may still require test scores for some students, including out-of-state students, international students, or students applying to particular majors. They may also have a certain GPA that determines your eligibility for waiving the test score requirement. Some schools may even have test scores optional for admission but required for enrollment. 

With the sudden and ongoing changes that the pandemic has brought to this year’s admissions cycle, I can’t stress enough how important it is to check with each school on your list to know what exactly is required and how their admissions policies have changed. If you have checked with each of your colleges and know that you are not required to submit any test scores, you might be wondering what the point of taking an SAT or ACT would be.

Even if a school is test-optional, there are benefits to submitting an ACT or SAT score if you are able to. First, a strong test score will help your application stand out. It will still carry the weight it has in the past, and will also demonstrate that you took the initiative to study for and take a standardized test despite the difficulty to do so this year. Another benefit, and potentially a hidden requirement, for submitting a test score is that many schools will likely use test scores to determine scholarship award amounts. This is incredibly important if you’re hoping to get as much financial aid as possible. 

So again, even though many schools are not requiring test scores for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, not all schools have made this decision, and even for the schools that have, it may still be a good idea to test and re-test if possible. 

Navigating the college admissions process has always been known to be stressful, but with the numerous changes and unknowns that these past few months have brought, it may be feeling even more overwhelming. Thankfully, you don’t have to go through it alone! Here at College Dream Builder, we are more than happy to provide personalized support through each step of the process, from researching colleges to making sure your essays and applications are perfect before submitting them.  

Until Next Time,

Megan Bugarin

College Admissions Consultant 

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