What International Students Should Know About Test-Optional Colleges

When the University of Chicago announced this summer it was adopting a test-optional admissions policy, prospective international students may have wondered how the new policy applies to them.

More than 1,000 accredited four-year colleges and universities have test-optional admissions policies, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. The policy allows applicants — mainly those from the U.S. — the optional choice to submit scores on standardized college admissions tests, like the SAT or ACT.

[Read: The Ins, Outs of Applying to Test-Optional Colleges.]

Some schools like American University and George Washington University, both located in the District of Columbia, also practice test-optional admissions with international applicants.

But prospective international students should be aware that test-optional policies don’t always apply to students who attended high school outside the U.S. For example, the University of Chicago requires international students to submit some form of standardized testing instead of the SAT or ACT.

“Smith is one of the schools that requires testing from international citizens. We do so because almost a quarter of our applicants come from around the globe — we typically receive applicants from over 70 countries — and this adds a small bit of context to the file,” says Audrey Smith, vice president for enrollment at Smith College in Massachusetts. She says the school has been test-optional for domestic students for the past decade.

Dickinson College in Pennsylvania also has a test-optional policy for U.S. applicants, but submission of test scores is required for all international students.

Catherine Davenport, interim vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions at Dickinson, says the school has used standardized testing information as another data point in the review process, as the admissions office receives applications from all over the world and may not be as familiar with every high school program of study.

Davenport says standardized testing allows admissions officers to better understand all aspects of a student’s file as decisions are made.

“We do allow international students as well as domestic students to self-report test scores as part of the application review process, but if a student enrolls at Dickinson, we do require submission of official scores and we will contact a student if those scores are different than reported to us during the admissions process,” Davenport says.

[Read: What International Students Should Know About Recent U.S. Trends.]

Other universities may not require international students to submit SAT or ACT scores but do require English proficiency tests. Augsburg University in Minnesota, for example, has a test-optional admissions policy for all students. Devon Ross, director of undergraduate admissions at Augsburg, says there is no significant difference in the school’s requirements for domestic or international freshman applicants.

“The only difference is related to English proficiency,” Ross says.

He says all international applicants must submit minimum scores for one standardized test in order to meet the English proficiency requirement for admission. For example, he says, a score of 80 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language, known as the TOEFL test; 6.5 on the IETLS, the International English Language Testing System; or 570 on the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section would be acceptable.

Skidmore College in New York has a test-optional admissions policy for domestic applicants but not for most international applicants. The school requires international applicants to submit SAT I or ACT scores if English is not a student’s first language and the applicant has not attended a high school for at least three years where English is the only language of instruction, according to the school’s website.

Skidmore also requires the TOEFL or IELTS if English is not a student’s first language. However, the TOEFL or IELTS is not required from students who attended a high school for at least three years where English is the only language of instruction, or if they are enrolled in an International Baccalaureate diploma program, the website says.

[Read: What’s a Good IELTS Score for U.S. University Admission?]

“We ask students studying in a non-English curriculum to submit testing to give us additional context regarding the student’s foundation and preparation for study in Skidmore’s curriculum and degree requirements,” says Mary Lou Bates, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid.

Bates says when the test-optional policy was adopted, the school determined it would re-evaluate the requirement for international students after five years in 2021.

With varying admissions policies, prospective international students may not know where to start to navigate the college application process. “Applying to U.S. colleges and universities can be confusing for international applicants,” Smith says.

Unlike many other countries where the university admissions process is driven largely by national exams, Smith says, U.S. colleges take many more factors into consideration in creating their classes, “and individual schools with different missions may weigh components of the application differently.”

Admissions officers offered the following tips to help international applicants stay on track of testing requirements.

Study school websites carefully. Smith says international students should begin their research by reviewing the websites of universities they are interested in, as these can be the best resources on schools’ test-optional policies.

For example, she says Smith makes its admissions and testing policy clear in two locations on the school’s website: in the How to Apply section and on the Standardized Testing Policy page.

Stay organized. Given the changing requirements at universities, experts say international students should keep track of which schools offer test-optional admissions. Davenport says organization is key; she recommends prospective international students keep a spreadsheet of information for each college or university and include columns for everything from application requirements and deadlines to notes from communication with school representatives.

Bates says Skidmore recognizes the admissions process can be daunting and it tries to make the process easier by providing an International Applicant Checklist on the school website. The checklist provides information on the school’s policy on standardized testing, with a section specifically addressing testing requirements for international students.

Ask questions. Even with information they find online, students may still have questions about test-optional polices. Ross says Augsburg University makes the effort to personally engage students to answer all questions and offers information in multiple languages. Skype and Google Hangouts can also be scheduled, according to the school’s website.

“Reviewing public information and asking questions is the key,” Ross says.

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What International Students Should Know About Test-Optional Colleges originally appeared on usnews.com

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