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Test Admission

The Rise in Test Optional Admissions

As the value of utilizing SAT and ACT scores in the college admissions process continues to be questioned by both colleges and students, we have seen an increasing use of test-optional policies. According to, over 850 American universities currently have a test optional policy for admissions. This means that they do not require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. These schools have decided that factors other than testing are better indicators of future success. Selective schools that have adopted this policy include Bowdoin College, which pioneered the concept in 1969, Brandeis, Wesleyan and George Washington University.
While individual requirements vary, some test optional schools do require scores for out-of-state or international applicants, those seeking merit-based financial aid or scholarships, or those pursuing specific majors. Brandeis permits students to submit additional materials, such as AP and SAT Subject test scores, and graded papers, instead of SAT or ACT results. Letters of recommendation, interviews, and writing samples may also be requested. Some universities require a minimum GPA and a top class ranking to be able to opt out of submitting scores. It also bears noting that several colleges do not require standardized testing from international students and/or those educated overseas. Check individual requirements carefully.
Test optional schools claim that this policy promotes diversity, because it helps students who test poorly and those who may not have access to test preparation. Historically, minorities and disadvantaged groups have scored lower on these exams, which may be due to a lack of coaching and availability of test prep courses. They are more likely to be women, students with learning disabilities, and first generation college applicants. It appears that, as income rises, so do test scores.
Although increasing diversity within the applicant pool seems to be a noble cause, critics have raised some concerns.
Since eliminating test score requirements increases the number of applications a college receives, the school is able to reject more applications, lower their acceptance rate, and thus appear more selective. This improves their standing within such rankings as the annual U.S. News and World Report. Studies have shown, too, that making testing optional does not increase campus diversity. Nor has it improved graduation rates or average GPAs.
The practice of optional test score submission actually raises the average SAT and ACT scores at a university, since only students that test well send them in. Some experts argue schools should drop testing requirements all together, instead of letting the applicants decide whether or not to submit them. Hampshire College is the only selective university in the country that is test-blind. This means they do not look at scores at all.
If you are interested in applying to a test optional university and think your score might hurt your chances, don’t submit it. A good rule of thumb to follow is to hold back your scores if they fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median score at more inclusive ones. Remember that you still may need to submit them to qualify for financial aid, scholarships, or to determine your class placement. The more well-rounded you are, the better your chances of impressing admissions without test scores.


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