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Is Test Optional Really Test Optional? Submit or Not to Submit: The Ultimate Debate

Written by Dhriti Suresh, UNC-Chapel Hill, College Contact Counselor

After the COVID-19 Pandemic, securing a testing site became one of the greatest hassles pushing colleges all across the country to adopt “test-optional policies” to acknowledge the setbacks faced by students. For the first time ever, top-tier universities did not require students to submit their ACT or SAT test scores. While many sighed in relief, whether they simply put off the exams or struggled to attain a desirable score, it is important to consider what this new test-optional policy really means for applicants. Before we go on a deep dive into whether or not to submit test scores to colleges, let's get some FAQs out of the way.

What does Test Optional Mean?

Test Optional essentially means that students are not officially required to submit SAT or ACT test scores with their application to be reviewed. Universities have informed you that not submitting these scores will not have any negative impact on the overall application and nothing will be held against you. Keeping that in mind another FAQ is

Wil Test-Optional Schools Review Test Scores if Submitted?

Yes, if submitted, admissions committees will consider scores and the other aspects of a student’s application. Something important to consider would be that by not submitting scores, more weight will in fact be placed on the remaining parts of the application such as your GPA, essays, extracurriculars, etc. So, when thinking about whether to submit or not, think about whether the remainder of your application will be able to demonstrate and showcase your potential well.

Now, although colleges across the country are trying to make an effort to attract diverse applicants and not work against them for factors out of their control, we must understand that this is instilling false hope in students, especially when talking about competitive college admissions. Students believe that now since scores may or may not be a part of the deal, they have a better chance of getting admitted to selective schools. This is ultimately reflected in the great surge in applications in recent years along with record-low acceptance rates. Although test-optional policies have changed the typical way of admissions, the schools will still prefer those with strong scores. For instance, let’s say the committee was to review two students who both excelled in extracurriculars, GPA, essays, and other parts of the application. Now, it comes down to the scores however only one student submitted while the other didn’t. The student who submitted their scores are more inclined to get admitted. Not only that but simply because new policies have been instituted does not necessarily mean that all students will be taking advantage of them. An example would be how just under 90% of the admitted class of 2025 to Georgetown University submitted test scores. Another great example would be how 56.3% of applicants voluntarily submitted test scores, while 61.1% of students admitted to Vanderbilt University submitted.

So, now what? Now, comes the final question: How do I know whether I should submit or not?

Here’s a rule of thumb you can follow when trying to decide whether you want to submit or not:

Submit your test scores if:

  1. The school recommends submitting scores if possible

  2. Your test scores are strong (near the 75th percentile of admitted students to the school)

  3. Other test scores are weak (AP exams, IB exams, etc)

Don’t submit if:

  1. Your other test scores are strong (AP tests, IB tests, etc)

  2. Your test scores are low (Below the 50th percentile of admitted students)

  3. You are confident in the remaining parts of the application (GPA, extracurriculars, class rank, etc)

Ultimately, just send the test scores if you genuinely think it adds to your application and will strengthen your chances of acceptance to the university.

Additional Tips + Tricks!

If you want to know where you stand in the applicant pool for a particular university, you can get a lot of details in one simple Google search. Colleges usually have data available for students to look at to get a rough picture of their class. Here are the instructions:

If you go to admissions pages or search “[university name] Common Data Set”, you will get links to PDFs with all sorts of helpful information. One part that might be of particular help would be the table containing each of the parts of the student application such as class rank, GPA, essays, etc. The table then classifies each of these elements in levels of importance. This table can be useful for gauging where you are regarding those in previously accepted classes.

The college admission process is a doozy so keep it up, you got this!

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