Fairtest, a national non-profit organization that monitors and updates listings for test-optional colleges and universities, recently announced that there are more than 1,000 test-optional schools in the United States. The organization also provides a chronology of more than 200 schools that have de-emphasized the ACT and the SAT since 2005 as well as a list of 300+ test-optional and test-flexible schools ranked in the top tiers of their respective categories in US News and World Report.

The Fairtest list also has several footnotes at the bottom of the page matched with numbers beside the names of some test-optional schools. In some cases, a college might not use ACT or SAT scores to make admissions decisions, provided that an application did not submit the scores. But the college might use them to place students into classes or specific majors. In still others, test scores that are likely to be low must be offset by a strong high school transcript. There are also a few state universities, including the University of Delaware, that are test-optional only for residents of the state.

Suppose your son or daughter is a junior with low PSAT scores but also very good to excellent grades in their chosen classes. Those scores, while based on only two years and maybe three months of high school, are a projection of how that student will do on the SAT. Then you take that projection, add 100 points, and still worry about chances for admission at the schools that your son or daughter likes.

Should you take a look at test-optional schools? It depends.

  • When you look at the Fairtest list, do you see schools that might be familiar as well as affordable to your family?
  • What are the alternatives to submitting scores that might help make a case for admissions? Some admissions offices will ask applications to write additional essays or submit examples of graded work
  • Do you want to compete for scholarships to reduce your college costs? There are schools that require ACT or SAT scores for all or the larger merit scholarship awards.
  • Have you taken other tests, such as AP or IB exams or SAT Subject Tests that show academic strengths that are less likely to be shown on the ACT or the SAT?
  • Are you interested in a degree program where you may demonstrate special talents through an audition or portfolio?
  • Must you submit the scores after admission, to be placed in classes for the freshman year? It is possible, for example, that a low Critical Reading or Math score might place you in a remedial course that carries no credit.

Will test-optional schools seriously consider your grades when you don’t submit ACT or SAT scores?

The more selective the college, the more likely the admissions office will look closely at the high school transcript, especially when they have not received many previous applications from your high school. An admissions office will look at the grades received in each course and check the course against others in the high school’s catalog that are in the same subject. If your admissions essays mention enthusiasm for a particular subject, or your application has an intended major, a college’s admissions office will expect grades that reflect enthusiasm or intentions. Apply to go pre-med or engineering, for instance, with B’s in ‘Academic Algebra II’ or ‘Academic Chemistry’ and your application has a reasonable chance to be denied.

Is it possible to simply pass on the ACT or SAT and not take it at all?

Yes, if your academic record or other talents also can make admissions possible. There’s little value, for example, in standardized testing for prospective visual arts, film, music or theatre majors who have ample opportunity to practice and master their crafts. An excellent math student who wins Math Olympiads can certainly present high math grades and SAT Math Subject Test Scores. The same is true for prospective Computer Science majors who can already write code in multiple languages.

More and more colleges offer test-optional admissions. However, their admissions offices still expect to admit motivated students who are likely to succeed. Its up to those students to prove themselves ready, scores or no scores.

Need help in building your college list or preparing for the admissions process? Contact me at stuart@educatedquest.com or call me at 609-406-0062.

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