Test-optional college admissions. The phrase sounds as if it should be printed on a get-out-of-jail-free card. Wouldn’t that be great? The teacher comes down the row, holding a big stack of mid-term exams and handing them out one by one. He gets to you, and you just shake your head and hand him your card. With a smile, he passes you by. You spend the class period watching videos on your phone while everyone else struggles to explain the causes of the Industrial Revolution.
It’s a nice fantasy, but test-optional policies are a little more down-to-earth. These policies could affect what materials you submit for review at schools you are interested in attending. A test-optional school does not require standardized testing scores for some or all of the students who apply for admission.
Schools that set test-optional policies do so for a variety of reasons. Temple University, for example, sees the policy as an alternative “for talented students whose potential for academic success is not accurately captured by standardized test scores.” The “Temple Option” is not offered to everyone, and students whose SAT or ACT scores are high are encouraged to include these scores in their applications. Bryn Mawr College values standardized testing for foreign students, but not U.S. citizens.
Temple’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, like some other test-optional admission departments, requires students to submit something in place of the absent test scores (students must answer a series of questions instead). The University of Delaware, on the other hand, requests that students who do not submit test scores write an essay.
Even if you dislike testing, it is worth considering whether it would truly benefit you to apply only to test-optional schools. Doing so is likely to limit your choices severely. According to Julia Quinn-Szcesuil in “Test-Optional Schools and the Changing World of College Admissions,” “the majority of colleges still believe test scores provide useful information about their applicants.” In the Philadelphia area, for example, the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University, and Drexel University all require standardized test scores. Penn State University, one of the largest schools in the country, does as well.
Here are a few tips for navigating the admissions policies of different schools.
- Look for schools that offer what you are interested in as far as majors, location, faculty, and student activities. Make yourself familiar with the admissions requirements, but do not eliminate any schools on that basis.
- Determine whether it would be better for you to take the ACT or SAT (A+ Test Prep and Tutoring can help you decide).
- Plan to take your standardized test at least twice.
- After you have received your second set of test scores, return to your college choices. Review the individual admissions requirements more closely. With two tests under your belt, you will be in a position to decide if you want to take advantage of any test-optional or superscoring policies. You will also have ensured that you have not disqualified yourself from any school that does require a standardized test score.
How much importance should you assign to this particular aspect of the application? Certainly a school’s standardized test policy should not be the deciding factor in whether or not you apply there. However, such information can help you better design your application strategy.
Remember, as always, A+ Test Prep and Tutoring is here to help make the testing part of the application process as stress-free as possible. We help you determine which test—the SAT or the ACT—is better aligned with your strengths, and we match you with tutors to help you attain your “personal best” score.
If you would like to discuss SAT or ACT test prep for your student, have questions about the new SAT or the ACT, or need any other information about college admissions exams, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215.886.9188.
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