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Is Test Optional Really Test Optional? Should I Submit My Scores?

male student looking at test scores on his phone

Are you ready to apply to college but wondering if you should submit your test scores to a test-optional school? You're not alone.

In recent years, more and more colleges and universities have gone test-optional in their admissions process. But does test-optional really mean test-optional? Or does applying test-optional hurt your chances? And when should you submit your SAT or ACT scores?


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In this article, we'll take a closer look at this issue. Then, we tell you what you'll want to consider as you navigate the decision and share expert advice from two industry experts. So, let's dive in!

What does test-optional mean?

If a school is test-optional, it means that you can choose whether or not to submit your SAT or ACT scores as part of your application. It's genuinely your choice whether or not to include scores. A lack of scores won't be held against you. The school won't look down on you (we've been asked this question).

But it's important to note- if you decide not to submit your scores to a test-optional school, more weight will be placed on other parts of your application. For example, your letters of recommendation, application essay, GPA,  and extracurriculars should be strong enough to represent your potential. So take that into account when making the decision.

Do test-optional schools look at test scores?

Yes. If you submit them. Test-optional schools will consider your test scores as part of your complete application. 

Does applying test-optional hurt your chances?

The answer to this depends on what you bring to the table, as demonstrated by the other parts of your application. Because without test scores, the other parts of your application are weighed more heavily.

If your GPA is high and you've taken challenging coursework, participated in extracurriculars, and even had leadership experience, you could have great success applying without sharing your test scores. Especially if you're not applying to the most competitive schools.

But if your academic record is not as strong as you'd like and you haven't had the time or the opportunity to participate in extracurriculars, then studying, doing well, and submitting test scores might be your best bet. 

However, in terms of colleges penalizing applicants for not submitting scores, no. They don't do that. Applying test-optional doesn't hurt your chances if you've got an outstanding application and are as strong or stronger than the other applicants. 


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Should I submit my SAT or ACT scores?

So here's the real question. When applying to a school that is test-optional, should you submit your scores? If you've read this far, you probably know the answer depends on you and your situation. But here are a few things to consider. 

  1. Consider your academic record

If you have a strong academic record, with good grades from challenging coursework, you might not need to submit test scores to demonstrate your academic abilities. This is especially true if the other parts of your application are also exceptional, like your essay, class rank, recommendations, or demonstrated leadership experiences. 

But if you have test scores you are proud of, you could still submit them. Having a solid academic record just gives you some flexibility. 

  1. Evaluate the school(s) you're applying to

If you are applying to highly selective colleges, you may want to consider sharing your scores to improve your admission chances. But only if you are proud of your scores and think they could help you stand out.

Some schools, like the University of Vermont, will share the average test scores and GPAs of students they admit on their website. If that information is available, you can use it to determine where you stack up against the other applicants. 

  • Check for other reasons to submit them

While a school might be test-optional for admission, they may still require test scores for merit aid. Other schools may require test scores for specific programs or majors. So understanding each school's policy will help you make the best decision.

Advice from the experts: when to submit your scores to test-optional schools

We asked two industry insiders for their advice on whether or not to submit test scores to a test-optional school. Here's what we learned. 

Jay Jacobs, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at the University of Vermont

Jay said he tells his students to ask themselves a few questions.

Do I feel proud of this score, and does it accurately showcase my academic ability? If you can say yes, the next step would be to look at the institution you are applying to and determine if your score fits into the average scores they see for admitted and/or enrolled students.

Admissions pages usually have this information, or you can search for the school's Common Data Set. If your score fits into those averages, then submit it. If any of the previous answers are "no," then don't submit."

You should also feel free to ask schools about how many applicants apply, are admitted, and are enrolled with or without test scores. This insight can also help you make an informed decision. 

For instance, if you learn that 60% of all applicants submitted test scores, but 75% of the admitted student group submitted test scores, you'll know to strongly consider submitting yours. 

Brenda High, College and Career Coach at ScholarShopMom

Brenda told us that the decision to submit your standardized test scores for test-optional colleges depends on the answers to these two questions:

What do you bring to the table academically? And how competitive is the school you are applying to?

If your standardized test scores are competitive compared to the school's other applicants, then submit them. If they are not, you may want to apply test-optional. 

Then Brenda shared a few other important things to think about:

1. Understand the school's policy on test-optional. Read the fine print. Determine if you are interested in being just admitted or being admitted with institutional scholarships. Some schools may be test-optional for admission but not for scholarships.

Other schools will consider you for admission and scholarships with the submission of your application. For additional scholarship consideration, some schools will allow you to submit higher scores after submission, and others will not allow you to reverse your original decision. So you need to know each school's policy.

2. If you are leaning towards test-optional, be aware that the school will focus more on your academics. So make sure you've taken challenging courses, volunteered, or been involved in extracurricular activities. More importance will also be placed on your college essay; for some students, the college essay may be their admission ticket.

3. It is crucial to seek advice from your high school counselor and the admissions counselor of the schools you would like to attend for further clarification, which means you need to do this early in the college selection process.


FAQs about applying test-optional

Now that you've read our experts' advice, let's answer your lingering questions. 

Q: Why have colleges and universities started going test-optional?

A: The majority of schools initiated their test-optional policies during the pandemic and the 2021-22 admissions cycle. 

One prevailing reason for continuing the policy is to make the admissions process more equitable. Some students may not have had the same opportunities to prepare for standardized tests as their more privileged peers. So eliminating the test requirement can level the playing field. 

Another reason for the shift is that some research suggests standardized tests may not always be the best predictor of a student's success in college. Grades, coursework, and extracurricular activities can better indicate how a student will ultimately perform.

Q: What does test-blind mean? 

Schools that use a test-blind admissions process do not consider your test scores even if you do submit them.

Q: What are some pros and cons of test-optional schools?

Some pros include better opportunities for students who didn't score well on their SAT or ACT or have text anxiety in general. This flexibility also gives them a chance to demonstrate their strengths in other ways. 

Some cons include the ambiguity and stress some students experience when making the decision to send or not send their scores. Also, some schools report a higher number of applicants each year, which could theoretically increase competition. 

Q: How can I get a fee waiver to take the SAT or ACT?

In general, you may be eligible for a fee waiver if your family meets the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Income Eligibility Guidelines or receives public assistance. Students in the foster care system and those participating in governmental or locally funded programs like TRIO and Upward Bound are also eligible for fee waivers. 

Click to read our full article about accessing college fee waivers. 

Q: How can I decide Between the SAT vs. ACT?

This is an interesting question, and we've written an entire article on it. You can read our "Should I Take the SAT or ACT?" guide by clicking the link. 

Need more information before submitting your test scores?

Want to find out where you rank for all the schools you are considering? With Appily, you can learn if the schools on your list are reach schools or safety schools. That insight can help you make the best application decisions. 

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