Test Prep

5 Factors to Consider When Applying to Test-Optional Colleges

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You don't need me to tell you that COVID-19 has majorly impacted the world. But what you might not realize is that one of the ways in which the college admission process has adapted is by temporarily going test-optional. Don't worry! This is a straightforward change that can only benefit you. Essentially, if you aren't happy with your ACT or SAT scores, you don't have to submit them. If you are pleased with your tests, sending them in can help you with merit-based financial aid and academic placement.

Here are the five main factors to consider when it comes to whether you want to submit SAT or ACT scores.


1. A Good Test Score Can Be Another Point in Your Favor

Test-optional schools tend to look at applicants holistically, so even though it's not required, a test score is another measurable factor they can assess alongside your essay, recommendations, academic history and performance. Sharing a score in your desired range can only help you!

2. Emphasize the Other Elements of Your Application

Test scores have never been the only thing schools require or ask to see. If you choose not to submit SAT or ACT scores, you'll want to make sure those other submissions are even better. Carefully prepare your application, and when it comes to things like your GPA and academic rigor, do your best to improve them, or at least to demonstrate an upward trend.

3. Explain Yourself Well

Craft a compelling, memorable and well-edited essay to speak for you where your SAT and ACT scores cannot. Enlist help from a reliable second set of eyes to look over your drafts and dive into an essay writing book to help guide your writing. If the college you're applying to offers the option for an interview, take it.

4. Have Others Speak on Your Behalf

You'll want to find qualified recommenders — often guidance counselors or core subject teachers from junior year — who can advocate for you. This is valuable, because whereas your essay is obviously biased, these outside opinions are respected for their unbiased and objective appraisals of you and your ability to succeed in college.

5. Double-Check Policies for Areas Beyond Admissions

Just because you aren't required to submit your SAT or ACT score for admissions, doesn't mean that it isn't still mandatory for merit-based scholarships or academic placements. Confirm with a school representative what areas are covered by the new test-optional policy. Where applicable, be careful to submit any additional material required as a result of opting out of score reporting.

The words "test optional" don't have to send your blood pressure through the roof. Colleges understand that you may not be able to take the SAT or ACT safely and have made changes in their testing policies with such circumstances in mind. If you're strategic and thoughtful in all aspects of your application and take advantage of the resources available to you, you can make your application shine, with or without SAT or ACT scores. For more admissions insight and test prep practice, check out our books ACT Premium Prep and SAT Premium Prep, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.