Test Optional

Is Going Test Optional a Disadvantage?

I’ve seen a number of statistics recently that suggest NOT submitting an ACT or SAT score hurts your chances of getting into test-optional schools:

  • UPenn ED applicants who submitted their scores were 1.8X more likely to be accepted than those who did not.
  • UVA applicants who submitted test scores 1.9X more likely to be accepted than those who did not.
  • Georgetown applicants who submitted test scores were 1.9X more likely to be accepted than those who did not.
  • Notre Dame applicants who submitted test scores were 2X more likely to be accepted than those who did not.

Of course, just because students who submitted test scores were accepted at a higher rate doesn’t mean they were accepted because of those test scores. While not always true, students with high test scores tend to be stronger candidates, with higher grades and more rigorous courses. It makes sense their acceptance rates would be higher.

That said, there’s evidence that going test optional weakens your application, and it comes from the source. The following is from an admissions officer at Wesleyan University, test optional since 2014:

“At my school we are emphatic about there being no disadvantage whatsoever for test-optional candidates, and this is also true for every other admission officer I know at test-optional colleges and universities.”

Sounds great, right? Read on:

“[While] *a* test score is not better than no test score, a *high* test score is better than no score. And more often than not, the students who submit scores have competitive ones. So that is going to be a plus on an application. If you want to use that fact to infer that applying test optional is a disadvantage, I suppose you can do that, but only in the sense that it’s a missed opportunity. With that same way of thinking, you can say it’s a disadvantage to NOT be captain of the mock trial team, or to NOT be class president, or to NOT be a drum major of the marching band. The SAT represents one of many ways in which someone can shine.”

This is impressive logical contortion, but it doesn’t hold up. When applying to college, you’re competing against people like you, especially from your area. A private school student in Manhattan is competing against other private-school students in Manhattan, and while there are few class presidents and drum majors, there are A LOT of students submitting high test scores.

Also, being drum major or class president isn’t a realistic option for most students. Taking a standardized test and preparing so as to have a competitive score, however, is an option for almost everyone.

You can call this a missed opportunity and not a disadvantage, but a missed opportunity that almost all of your competition has on their resume sounds a lot like a disadvantage to me.

Going test optional is fine if you have something truly sensational on your resume – better than class president, I recommend. If not, take the test. Do your prep. It’s important.

To your success!

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