Test Prep

Are Ivies Really Test-Optional for International Applicants?

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I have a question about test-optional admissions. I am in South Korea and will be applying to a few Ivies this fall that have dropped the SAT/ACT requirement. Will colleges expect international applicants to submit test scores even though the schools are test-optional? Where I am, COVID is not a big issue so I could take tests but I prefer not to because my previous scores weren't good and I am not a good test taker. So basically, what will colleges think of international applicants who don't submit test scores? Will it be a problem?


All eight of the Ivies are test-optional for both international and domestic applicants in the coming admission cycle (for the high school class of 2021). These schools have pledged no disadvantage to their candidates who apply without SAT or ACT results, and so the upshot will be that admission officials will be scrutinizing the rest of each candidate's profile more carefully than ever to see what is special.

Acceptance at Ivy institutions has long been cutthroat competitive for South Korean students because there are so many top-notch contenders each year, which makes it very challenging for any one individual to stand out. So before you spend time or money on Ivy applications, ask yourself what sets you apart from the crowd. Are your academic or extracurricular accomplishments unique? How about your background: Did you grow up in an atypical household or community? Do you have a memorable story to tell?

If you can't answer "Yes!" to at least one of these questions, then even high SAT or ACT scores probably won't help you. But if you do believe that your Common App will be ... well ... uncommon, then it's really okay for you to skip the SAT or ACT submission, as long as you're convinced that your unusual successes or life story will come across clearly in your application.

In addition, this year "The Dean" is advising international students who have other types of strong test results — from National exams, AP exams, IB exams, etc. — to submit those scores to target colleges, even without the SATs or ACTs. Finally, check out this earlier "Ask the Dean" column that discusses how admission folks may be navigating the unfamiliar test-optional waters next winter. It may help you as you decide what to include in your applications — or even if you should apply at all to certain schools.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

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