Pros and Cons of Applying to a Test-Optional School

Today’s article was submitted by David White.

Depending on how you feel about standardized tests, the idea of a test-optional college applications could be one of the most hope engendering phrases you’ve ever heard. When it comes to the college application process, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT (undergraduate), and the GMAT and GRE (graduate) can be one of the most stressful aspects.

Historically, most colleges in the U.S. have expected students to submit their standardized test scores with their applications, which were typically used as one of many factors in the decision making process. In recent years, however, some schools have started to leave the standardized test score behind, or make them optional for new applicants.

Most applicants would agree that having one less thing to worry about during the application process would be alright by them, but before you get too excited, it’s important to understand the role of test scores and how abandoning them could affect your application.

How scores influence admissions decisions

For admissions committees and departments, a decision to accept or reject a student is based on several different factors including academic achievements and ability, recommendations, community participation, and yes, test scores. In some ways, your standardized test scores are a reflection of your ability to comprehend and apply the things you’ve learned in school, and to think critically about and respond to material. In that sense, your test scores can be compared to those of others students, not just to ensure that you meet certain standards, but also to determine whether or not you can keep up in a particular academic environment.

While test scores can be a useful factor in making an admissions decision, they might not always be as important as you might think. According to a 2015 study by William Hiss, former Dean of Admissions at Bates College in Maine, “30 percent [of students] had been admitted without submitting test scores.” Hiss’ research suggests that, although some schools continue to factor tests scores into their process, it’s entirely possible to be accepted without submitting any. However, your chances of being accepted without scores likely depends a great deal on other application factors being very strong.

Pros of test-optional colleges

When it comes to choosing schools to which you’ll apply, there are many good reasons for exploring test-optional institutions. For example, applicants who choose to wait to go to college (i.e. take a gap year or two), rather than going directly after high school, could be at a disadvantage when it comes to standardized tests because they’ve been out of that environment for many years. Likewise, individuals who struggle with test anxiety and feel they don’t test well might still be fully capable of comprehending and producing outstanding academic work, but simply struggle with the format of a standardized test. In these cases, having the option to omit test scores—particularly if they’re low—could open up a wide range of options they didn’t know they had.

Drawbacks of test-optional colleges

Despite the previously mentioned benefits, the pros and cons of a test-optional admissions process could be a matter of perspective. For instance, if you have done very well on the SAT and feel confident about the other pieces of your application, you might feel as though test-optional is unfair because it no longer gives you an edge over other applications.

For those who test exceedingly well, test scores could be one of the most impressive aspects of an otherwise ordinary college application. That means that at a test-optional school, your chances of acceptance could go down if your scores aren’t given the same consideration. In this case, it’s important to note that test-optional typically means you don’t have to submit your scores, but for those who do, they will be taken into consideration.

Finally, one of the most significant drawbacks is that by prioritizing test-optional colleges, you could be missing out on other good programs and schools. According to a 2016 report, there are more than 900 schools in the U.S. that are test-optional, and that number is likely to increase in the coming years. This might sound like a big number, but there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities around the country. Given that, applying only to test-optional schools means that you’ll be ignoring some pretty big schools and programs. Nevertheless, among the more than 900 test-optional schools are highly-regarded institutions like Bryn Mawr, Trinity College, and Louisiana State University.

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David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.

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