With so many schools going “test-optional” (see the full list at Fairtest), high school juniors are asking me if they still need to take the ACT or SAT.
Let’s start with some definitions. “Test-optional” is not the same as “test-blind”. A test-blind school will NOT consider your standardized test scores even if you choose to send them. On the other hand, a test-optional school WILL consider them if they are part of your college application. To add to the confusion, “test-flexible” schools will allow you to choose the test scores you want to use – ACT, AP, IB, or SAT.
So, with so many schools going test-optional why should you send them?
Many admissions officers at top and middle tier schools will tell you that they expect students who can to take the test and send their scores. They know that if you took the test and scored in the mid-range or higher of their students’ scores, you’re going to send your score. If you don’t, they will assume, reasonably so, that you scored lower than the mid-range. Even schools who tout their “holistic review” process often use standardized test scores along with GPAs to determine who is accepted to their honors programs and who receives merit aid.
Then why is there so much attention being given to the test-optional trend?
Because it’s a step in the right direction. Test scores are only one data point in a college application, but over the years high scores have become the holy grail of college admissions. This despite the inequity associated with these tests and the fact that it has been shown that grades are a better reflection of a student’s ability to succeed.
So, back to the question. Should you take the ACT or SAT?
Unfortunately, the answer for now is still yes, if you can.
Hopefully the current trend toward a more holistic admissions process that is less dependent on a snap-shot of data will continue. (See the NYTimes.) The momentum will build as more admissions officers develop the expertise to read applications holistically and as students begin to trust that not sending their scores will not negatively impact their chance of being accepted. This change may take time, but it will be well worth it in the end as students may finally be seen as a person with unique talents and abilities and not simply as a score and GPA.