Test Prep

How to Decide Whether to Send Scores to Test-Optional Schools

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You might have heard that an increasing number of colleges are going the test-optional route. But do they really mean that? Actually, yes -- they do! If you really don't want to send in your SAT or ACT scores as part of your application, you don't have to. But it also means that you still can send them if you'd like. Here's an up-to-date list of the more than 1,000 US colleges that do not require SAT or ACT test scores to determine admission, many of which are labeled as “test-optional."

When to Send Scores Anyway

In some cases, it's still a good idea to submit test scores even to colleges that don't require them. If you attend a high school where there are many high achieving students, "it could be valuable to submit test scores in order to stand out from the other applicants," advises Herbie Walker, president and CEO of Walker College Consultants in Las Vegas. "Doing well on the SAT or ACT will always add value to a college application, so if you performed well within the score range of students historically admitted to this college, it is a good idea to still send your scores to a test-optional school."

When to Keep Scores to Yourself

If you have a track record of struggling with standardized exams but are doing quite well academically and maintaining a high GPA or you're ranked high in your senior class, feel free to exercise your option not to send in your test scores. It also helps if you've taken rigorous courses, actively participated in clubs or groups outside of class and can provide sparkling letters of recommendation.

Walker adds that aside from excellent letters of recommendations, your personal statement or essay is also critical.

“Letters of recommendations from academic instructors have been known to make or break an application," he advises. "But in my experience, the personal statement is what makes an application pop and will force a committee to really take their time and look at the overall story of the student. The essay brings to light the personality, ambitions and passion of an applicant."

If you think your test scores might prevent you from getting into a school that really interests you but you have a well-rounded and strong application for a test-optional school, your test scores won't be missed.

“Admissions committees will review all materials and consider them toward your complete application packet," Walker says. "So it is important to not accidentally send scores to a school that you do not mean to, as they will not automatically omit the scores. They won't know whether you sent the scores intentionally or not."

Should You Still Sit for the Test?

For most students, it's still important to take one of the standardized tests “to see how strong a student profile you can build for yourself," Walker says. "You won't be able to know how well you perform unless you put forth a strong effort. In addition, the SAT and ACT are used by many colleges and universities to assess what level of math or English class you may take as a freshman. This is crucial for those worried about their academic pacing once in college so you are not wasting time and money taking courses you are not required to take," Walker explains.

In addition, some schools and private organizations use test scores to determine when to offer scholarships or merit aid to applicants, so in those cases, your scores could be beneficial.

When you're researching schools where you're considering applying, it's a good idea not to restrict your search to test-optional schools just because you're worried about low test scores. If a school you really like happens to be test-optional, that's great! Just make sure that the school is truly a good fit for you beyond its enticing testing policy.