If you’re in the midst of preparing for college applications, you’re probably already aware that many colleges across the country are switching gears to a “test optional” policy in response to the impact that COVID-19 has had on SAT / ACT scheduling and availability. A handful of schools were already “test blind” — but, please don’t mistake the two! Before you abandon your SAT / ACT study plans, it’s important to understand the difference between “test optional” and “test blind” in order to put together an application that holistically captures who you are as a student and as an individual.
What’s the difference between “test blind” and “test optional”?
When schools decide to go test optional, that does not mean that standardized test scores are taken out of the equation entirely — this is only true of test blind schools. Colleges that are test blind will not consider test scores during the admissions process even if a student submits scores. Test optional schools, on the other hand, will absolutely consider your test scores if you choose to submit them.
If you’re putting together your college list, it’s important to get familiar with each school’s specific policy on submitting test scores because there are several variations on the test optional theme. Some schools are requiring additional short-answer questions or submission of an analytical paper in place of SAT / ACT scores. Others have decided to waive testing requirements only for students who meet a minimum GPA. Also important to note, some test optional schools may still require test scores for out-of-state students, international students, or students applying for certain scholarships. Be sure to read the fine print! Here you will find a list of all the colleges and universities that have opted to go test optional.
What does this mean going forward?
Zooming out from the chaos of the past several months, a trend towards more flexibility within standardized testing requirements was set into motion several years before the onset of the pandemic. The barriers posed by COVID-19 have certainly fast-tracked the shift to test optional, but it’s likely that even as the world settles back into some version of “normal,” SAT / ACT requirements will continue to change or simply never return to pre-COVID policies. Some schools are running an experimental pilot program to evaluate the effectiveness of test optional, while other schools are announcing a full transition to test optional. Many, of course, do plan to return to relying on test scores once testing scheduling and availability normalize. The outcome of this nationwide experiment — the success of incoming freshmen in the fall of 2021 — will inform admissions policies for years to come.
So, should I still plan to take the SAT or ACT?
Though the test optional surge may feel like a relief, in reality many of the schools that typically require SAT / ACT scores will likely still expect to receive scores from students who do have access to testing. Plus, strong scores will only strengthen your application and could be essential in making you stand out among your peers. Considering that many other application components, such as extracurriculars, work opportunities, and class grades, have been interrupted, the SAT or ACT could be an excellent opportunity to set yourself apart academically.
Keep in mind that admissions officers will only spend a few minutes looking at your file during the initial review period. During this initial review, they are forced to make quick decisions, drawing conclusions about who you are from the materials that you provide in your application. Strong test scores can play a huge part in further solidifying your impression as a viable applicant whose profile aligns with pre-COVID admissions standards. So if you believe test scores could elevate your overall application, we highly recommend sticking to your original study plan and using this time to demonstrate your continued commitment and ability to succeed even in such tumultuous times.
If you’d like more individualized guidance on how to achieve scores that will make your applications shine, we are here to help. Above all else, we hope you are staying safe and well. As always, at Sentia we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!