Preparing for College

Are Tests REALLY Optional at Test-Optional Colleges?

Question: My son is an excellent student (top 10th of class) with good extracurriculars (literary magazine co-editor, student council member, glee club president, Model UN). His math SAT score is decent (670) but his Critical Reading score (560) is well below the mid-point range at the colleges that interest him. Based on his testing history, he does not expect that retaking the SAT will improve his CR score, so he is planning to apply to some of the most selective test-optional colleges. However, a friend told him that, as a white, upper-middle-class applicant from the Northeast, he will be competing against many other similar students who DO submit scores, and so my son's admission chances will be hurt by withholding the test scores, even though they are not required. Is this true?

My response is a resounding--albeit entirely unsatisfying--"It depends." Being test-optional can be a better deal for colleges than for students. For starters, it typically increases the applicant pool because seniors with scores below the norm, who may fear applying to comparable test-requisite schools, are more apt to aim for the test-optional competitors. It also allows admission officials to accept those who are attractive to them for a variety of reasons (athletes, underrepresented minority students, etc.) but who wouldn't make the cut without a no-test option.

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