With the unprecedented cancellations of SAT and ACT tests this spring, many rising seniors are wondering how the situation will affect their college applications, particularly for schools that now do not require test scores as part of a student’s admissions profile.
“Score-optional” or “test-optional” schools do not require students to submit test scores from the SAT or ACT. But these schools do allow students to submit those scores if the student feels that their score reflects academic strength and contributes positively to their overall admissions profile. This is different from “test blind” colleges, which will not review test scores at all, even if they are submitted. The number of test-blind colleges is relatively small compared to the increasing number (over 1000) of schools that have gone score-optional (either permanently or just for the class of 2021 admissions cycle). Many news reports unwittingly imply that score-optional schools are test-blind, which can cause confusion. It’s important to understand the implications of score-optional status to successfully navigate the fall 2020 application process.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
IF I APPLY TO A SCORE-OPTIONAL SCHOOL, DOES THAT MEAN THAT MY TEST SCORES DON’T MATTER?
If you choose not to submit scores, then your test scores will have no bearing on your acceptance (the school won’t see them). But if you choose not to submit scores, and other students do submit their scores, you may be at a disadvantage. A student who submits high test scores will have a stronger application than a student who doesn’t submit scores at all. That is why when you look at the average scores for students attending a test-optional school like the University of Chicago (consistently ranked among the top twenty national universities, with an acceptance rate under ten percent), you see very high average scores for admitted students. Those students weren’t required to submit scores, but they did, and their high scores complemented the academic strengths indicated by their transcript.
If you have strong test scores, you should always send them, even to test-optional schools. Scores in the 75th percentile (1200 on SAT or 24/25 on ACT) and above are strong scores.
IF I APPLY TO A SCORE-OPTIONAL SCHOOL, THEN WILL MY EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AND ESSAYS WEIGH MORE HEAVILY IN MY APPLICATION?
Yes. Not requiring test scores will ultimately mean that a university will take a more holistic approach to reviewing applicants. For a student with a strong academic record, a broad array of extracurricular activities, and many hours of service or volunteer work, applying to a score-optional school is an excellent way to ensure that you get noticed for all of the awesome work that you do outside of the classroom. However, grades and GPA are the primary factors determining college admissions.
WILL I LOSE OUT ON SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES IF I DON’T SUBMIT TEST SCORES, EVEN TO SCORE-OPTIONAL SCHOOLS?
Potentially, yes. Many schools might not require test scores for admissions, but they do use test scores in combination with grades/GPA to evaluate applications for merit-based scholarships. In fact, for some “score-optional” schools, test scores are only optional if a student meets a certain GPA requirement. These same schools will typically award merit scholarships based on GPA and test scores submitted with the admissions application. Keep in mind that the situation is evolving. Some schools who have recently made the decision to go test-optional may not yet have made a decision on how they will award merit scholarships for fall 2020 applicants. For the best information, you should always check the financial aid information available on individual colleges’ websites.
IF I DON’T SUBMIT SAT OR ACT SCORES, SHOULD I SUBMIT OTHER SCORES LIKE SAT SUBJECT TESTS or AP TESTS?
Absolutely! Especially if those tests show exceptional strength in certain academic areas. In fact, if you struggle with SAT or ACT tests, but excel at subject-specific tests, it is a good idea to think about taking some of those tests in the fall in order to boost your admissions profile. AP tests are administered only once per year, but SAT Subject tests and CLEP exams happen throughout the year. Both are part of the College Board array of tests. You can view schedules and pricing at collegeboard.org and determine if one or more might help improve your admissions profile.
ARE UT AND A&M SCORE-OPTIONAL?
Yes, but only for Class of ’21 applicants. UT and A&M have both recently announced that they are not requiring SAT or ACT scores for Class of ’21 admissions. Both universities are still going to offer assured admissions for students with certain grades/class ranks. High test scores may still be useful for placement in specific programs (for example the School of Engineering or School of Business at either campus). “Students may continue to submit standardized scores from their SAT and/or ACT tests for consideration for admission. Submission of tests scores will not create any unfair advantage or disadvantage for those students who provide them.” Chris Reed, executive director of admissions, TAMU.
The option to not submit scores can be very helpful for a student who struggles with standardized tests or for a student who wasn’t able to test in the spring due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but there are still advantages to submitting scores and working to improve existing scores. If a student can prep and test in late summer and early fall, it is advantageous to that student to do so. Especially if they are applying to the big public universities in our state, as both UT and A&M are still requiring students to submit test scores for SAT or ACT. If a student applies to score-optional or test-flexible schools, impressive scores will only add to their strengths. At More Than A Teacher, we are fond of saying that schools are looking for reasons to let you in, not reasons to keep you out. Knowing how a college or university will view test scores is the key to making an informed decision.
SCORE OPTIONAL SCHOOLS BY GEOGRAPHIC AREA (schools waiving testing requirements for 2020 admissions ONLY) https://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/ACT-SATWaiversfor2020Admissions.pdf
St. Mary’s University, San Antonio
Schreiner University (applicants with GPA of 3.25+)
University of Texas
SCORE OPTIONAL SCHOOLS BY GEOGRAPHIC AREA (schools that have chosen to de-emphasize SAT/ACT testing as a qualifier for admissions)
*indicates a top 50 nationally ranked university
**indicates a nationally ranked small liberal arts college (Colleges that Change Lives)
University of Miami
Loyola University New Orleans (test blind)
College of William and Mary*
University of Richmond**
Arizona State – min GPA requirements
University of Arizona
All Cal State Universities*
Claremont McKenna (check for other schools in Claremont Consortium)**
All UC schools (test-blind for California residents only)
University of Denver
Lewis and Clark College**
University of Oregon
University of Puget Sound**
University of Washington (UW – Udub)
University of Connecticut
NYU (score flexible – choose which standardized tests to send, including APs)*
University of Rochester*
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute*
University of Chicago*
Indiana University – Purdue
KState (meet min GPA)