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The Test Optional Universe

The most common question I receive nowadays is

“How do you feel about the test optional policy for SAT/ACT in college admissions?”

(rolls up sleeves)

The first thing I state is the obvious: my career is clearly built on preparing students for these tests, so I am aware that I am in a biased position.

In fact, at a personal level, I should be an advocate for disavowing these tests entirely because I was keenly unaware of so much information when I went through the testing and college application process myself.

I didn’t know I could take the SAT more than once.

I didn’t know I could prepare for the test (I thought it measured IQ).

I didn’t know I could have enrolled in a class or hired a tutor to maximize my scores (I’m not sure we could have afforded it anyway).

So why would I align myself with the testing faction?

Probably because I was actually a really good tester and I believe it showcased that part of me despite not knowing everything I should have. The college application process was an entirely solo activity for me with no outside help whatsoever. While I didn’t (couldn’t?) get help with my essays, internships at my dad’s business, or second looks as a legacy, I leveled the playing field by performing well on the exams.

“Ok, but how do you feel NOW about the SAT/ACT?”

I like the test optional policy.

I believe it takes the best of all worlds to allow families to decide what is best for them.

If you’re a horrible test taker who would rather fight dragons than sit down choosing bubbles, you can simply avoid the exams with no negative repercussions.

If you’re a great test taker who wants to display your uncanny ability to decipher which letter is the credited response, you can take the tests to add a positive factor to your application. There’s no penalty if you aren’t the Valedictorian or starting linebacker or spelling bee winner, but you’d certainly mention it if it were the case, no?

Another type of student who might strongly consider taking the tests is someone whose application looks lacking in other areas. Do you have a less than stellar GPA? Did you take less than challenging courses at your high school? If you answered “yes”, then presenting a good SAT/ACT score can give the admissions office a reason to counter-balance an otherwise deficient-looking application. Obviously, you would have to account for the colleges you’re applying to and how competitive it is to get in. With college applications, nothing exists in a vacuum.

Additionally, many Merit-Based Scholarships are still intrinsically attached to SAT/ACT scores. In fact, some colleges and institutions automatically reward money if you meet or exceed certain SAT/ACT score thresholds. And since these are “merit-based”, it doesn’t matter how much money your family makes.

Lastly, if your college list is still a moving target, taking the SAT/ACT might be a good “just in case”. Many Seniors change their minds at the last minute and add/delete college names until the final hour. If you add a new school to your list with a test optional or test required policy, you may find yourself regretting not taking the exams when you could. It’s about hedging your bets and giving yourself options.


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