For decades, the college application process has begun with high school juniors taking college admissions tests. But with many colleges and universities becoming “test-optional,” (no longer requiring SAT or ACT scores to be submitted with an application), many students with test anxiety are beginning to wonder whether testing at all is necessary.
While the “test-optional” movement is worth understanding as you apply for college, most students find that taking either the SAT or ACT is still a good idea. Read on to learn why.
Understanding test-optional policies
As mentioned, colleges with test-optional programs still accept SAT and ACT scores, but no longer require them. Instead, students are evaluated for admission based on their grades and other factors such as letters of recommendation, essays and extracurricular activities.
Some schools even accept creative portfolios, video profiles, business plans or scientific research projects as alternative evidence of a student’s potential.
This trend is fairly new, but gaining momentum: More than 1,000 schools have some type of test-optional admission policy. At first glance, this sounds fantastic, at least to kids who may not be great test-takers, but there are important exceptions.
For example, at George Mason University, you need to have a GPA above 3.5 for test-optional consideration, and not every department is included: The computer science and engineering programs still require test scores.
Home-school applicants and those applying as Division I athletes are also required to submit scores. These exceptions vary by school, so it’s important for applicants to fully understand each school’s requirements before applying without test scores.
Why testing is still a good idea
Even with more schools offering some sort of test-optional consideration, most are still not test-optional. Considering that students apply to between five and eight schools on average, it’s highly unlikely that all the schools on a student’s list will be test-optional. That’s one reason it’s still a good idea to take the SAT or ACT before applying.
It’s also important to remember that just because you take the test, doesn’t mean you absolutely have to submit the scores to a test-optional school. If you have a strong application that can stand out from the masses without a test score — and you believe your test score will detract from, rather than add to, that application — you can always choose to submit an application without your scores to a test-optional school.
On the other hand, you may take the SAT or ACT and find that your scores are better than you expected, and including them could actually boost your application. Without taking the test in the first place, it’s impossible to make an informed decision.
The good news for those who hate tests
While testing is still important for college-bound juniors, there is good news for those who simply dread the tests: You don’t need to take both the SAT and ACT; you can just pick one.
We offer free practice tests in the community, as do other organizations. Taking those can help you determine which test you naturally score higher on, so you can focus your efforts on that test.
Once you determine which test you’re going to take, start prep two to five months out, so you can be fully prepared on test day. You just may find that you want to put those scores on your college applications after all!
Ann Dolin is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring and the author of “Homework Made Simple.”