What Do Colleges Think About Test Optional

Post pandemic, colleges seem to be staying with a Test Optional policy for the 2021-2022 cycles, at least. Being able to apply without the pressure of scores on the application increased the numbers of applications at most colleges. UCLA jumped from 108 thousand to 140 thousand applications in 2020.

When colleges have scores to evaluate, how do they use them? Colleges with an admit rate in the single digits are more likely to use scores as a bench mark as a way to narrow down the mass of applications. Students whose scores fall in the lowest quartile will need to be exceptionally strong in other areas such as having major accomplishments to balance the low scores. These universities are likely to have applicants who submit and for the scores to be evaluated.

It should be noted that Test Optional policies have been around for about ten years. All indications are that scores are not predictive of success in college. Similar GPAs and time to graduation are almost identical between groups of students who submit score and those admitted without them. This holds true across all types of schools, majors, and selectivity.

Why do some colleges still want to see scores? The simple answer is marketing. USNWR uses a list of about a dozen criteria in creating their list of Top Colleges. Each year they tweak the algorithm to re-weight the criteria in order to change the rankings at least a little bit. However, the scores of admitted students is perennially one of the most important categories. Unfortunately, many families equate ranking with quality of education, an apples-to-skates comparison. However, rankings still help sell colleges to potential applicants so admissions offices still seek them and use them in making admissions decisions.

In summary, most admissions offices are happy to have Test Optional policies because it put more weight on parts of the application that are predictive of success in higher education and opens the possibility of admission to a broader demographic.

A good rule of thumb: if your scores are above the mid-point of admitted students, submit them; if they fall below the midpoint, don’t send them. If you are applying to a math-heavy major, submit if your math score is near the 75th percentile of admitted students and if you are applying to a communication-heavy major; the same applies to your verbal score even if your composite score is below the mid-point of admitted students.

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