To Test or Not to Test: What to consider before opting out of the test at a test-optional school
Updated: Mar 3, 2020
It seems like every week, a new school has announced the decision to go test-optional (see Forbes article). This is encouraging for many students who do not feel like standardized tests accurately reflect their academic abilities and potential. Some schools are still firmly holding on to their requirement - the University of California system announced that they are maintaining the standardized test requirement because their data indicates that the standardized test is actually a better predictor of academic success in their schools and provides a better way for them to fairly evaluate applicants than the high school GPA.
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)"works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial." They keep a comprehensive updated list of the schools that have decided to make the ACT or SAT an optional part of the admissions process.
If you have a history of being a bad test taker, think carefully before you jump for joy at the thought of applying without the standardized test. It does seem like the tides are changing and this will be a continuous trend, but for now, tread carefully.
There is a difference between schools that practice a more inclusive or open enrollment policy vs. more selective schools that indicate they are now test-optional. Institutions that are considered selective in their admissions only admit a certain percentage of applicants rather than accepting everyone who meets minimum criteria for admissions. A growing number of these institutions as referenced in the article above are offering applicants the opportunity to opt out of the test so they can make the application process more accessible and fair to underrepresented groups that are disadvantaged in the standardized testing process. For these schools, you are going to want to think carefully about whether you want to opt out.
For each school you are considering that is test optional, find out what percentage of the incoming class actually took one of the tests. If you do not submit a standardized test, the school is likely going to assume that you would have performed poorly on it. As a result, the admissions office is going to even more carefully scrutinize the rigor of your academic record and your academic performance (GPA) to ensure that you will be equipped to handle the coursework. If the school is already highly selective and the majority of students are still submitting scores, you could be putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don't have a compelling reason for not taking the test. It is much easier to make the case for opting out if you have evidence based on your individual circumstances that the test may do more harm than good in the review of your academic qualifications for college.
Keep in mind that many schools factor standardized test scores when they make decisions about honors program and scholarships. If you are a student who may be eligible for merit-based financial aid, you are likely going to want to have a competitive test score for the admissions office to review.
I would encourage you to speak with your school counselor and the admissions representatives of the schools you are considering to evaluate whether it makes sense for you to submit a college application without the standardized test. This is definitely not a situation where the recommendation about test-optional admissions will be consistent across students, as everyone has a different story.