More than 1,700 colleges and universities are test-optional or test-blind for fall 2023—meaning applicants won’t be required to submit SAT and ACT scores to be considered for admission. With colleges increasingly going test-optional since the pandemic (which forced testing centers to shut down), it’s important for applicants to understand the intricacies of testing policies, and how colleges review applications.
Sarah Wood, a reporter at US News, recently spoke to experts who explained the various testing policies and what they mean for applicants.
KNOW THE POLICIES: TEST-OPTIONAL VS. TEST-BLIND
The two main distinctions in testing policies are test-optional and test-blind. Test-optional means applicants can choose whether they want to submit their SAT or ACT score.
“It certainly benefits students for whom standardized tests are not their strong suit,” Anna Ivey, founder of Ivey Consulting, tells US News. “We all know people who are very gifted academically and they are just not good standardized test-takers. That is a very real phenomenon. So, it’s a good thing that people now have the choice as far as whether they want to make that part of their profile or not.”
The second policy, test-blind, is less common. Test-blind means schools decline to review test scores, even if an applicant submits them. Experts say it’s important for applicants to make the distinction between test-optional vs. test-blind policies.
“These policies often come with caveats,” Wood says. “For instance, a college may claim to be test-optional, but still require scores for certain programming or out-of-state applicants. Some test-optional schools even consider test scores when determining merit scholarship recipients.”
ESSAYS, GRADES ARE MORE IMPORTANT IN ADMISSIONS
Test scores are only one component in the admissions criteria. And there are many ways that an applicant can stand out from the competition.
“Test scores tend to validate other parts of the application,” Dana Rolander, a certified educational planner and founder of Ohio-based Midwest College Consulting, tells US News. “But a high school transcript is always going to matter more than a test score.”
Likewise, a strong essay can likely make the difference between being accepted or rejected.
“It sheds light into your maturity, your reflectiveness and, importantly, your goals and aspirations,” Dan Kwon, senior vice president of admissions consulting at FLEX College Prep, tells US News. “Admissions officers genuinely try to look for the students who are going to best achieve those and fit into that particular environment. Because for better or worse, they can’t accept everybody.”