Should you include test scores in your college admissions or skip sharing scores at test-optional schools?

Why Colleges Become Test-Optional

Over 1,800 colleges and universities became test-optional in response to Covid. Many have continued to offer admissions without requiring test scores. Another approximately 80 schools are test-free, including all the University of California and Cal-State universities. Why?

A BIG boost in the number of applications received and application fees. For example, Northeastern charges $100 per application and received 96, 237 for this year’s freshman class. Even if some students used fee waivers, that has to be more than $7 million, far exceeding the cost of running the admissions office annually. UCLA received 145,904 applications in 2023 and charges $135 for the privilege of applying. Even if 40% of those applicants had their fees waived, that’s nearly $12 million in fees. Wow!

Additional reasons may include:

  1. a desire to improve the number of minorities who apply and enroll
  2. the concern about over-reliance on a single test in the admissions process
  3. the feeling that test prep is primarily available to wealthy students (one driving reason for OnToCollege serving so many high schools directly is to provide affordable, engaging, effective prep for ALL students)
  4. a desire to boost the reported freshman class ACT or SAT score, improving the college’s rankings
  5. a desire to increase the number of applicants and decrease the acceptance rate: both of which can improve a school’s rankings.
The Reality for Students Who Apply Test-Optional

test scores and admission

In October 2023, Yale and Emory’s admission directors discussed test-optional applications in a podcast interview. According to Yale’s Dean of Admissions, “It turns out actually that the SAT or the ACT is the single best predictor of a student’s academic performance.” He added, “If you don’t submit scores, Yale will assume they’re low.” Christina Paxson, president of Brown University, wrote, “Standardized test scores are a much better predictor of academic success than high school grades.”

Here’s why: high school GPAs are not consistent across states or even districts. An A at one high school might be a B or C at another. Some high schools use 4-point scales; some use 5-point scales. Honors and AP courses are weighted at some schools, but not at others. Grade inflation has entered many high schools, primarily due to parental pressure. The Emory Admissions Director shared, “We’re not as trusting, frankly, of GPA these days. Grades are definitely inflated and not as connected to true class performance as they used to be.”

Graphs from the New York Times

MIT’s internal research found that requiring test scores helped improve the diversity of their enrolled students and also improved the likelihood that those enrolled students would pass the required freshman courses at MIT. No one benefits when students drop out of college because they’re not college-ready. Here is a U.S. News list of top colleges that still require test scores.

“Test optional” means optional primarily for those excited to pay full price because test-optional colleges still typically require test scores for scholarships. Plus, many colleges look at test scores for class placement or require minimum scores for specific programs or majors. When the average cost of college is almost $35,000 per year, and the average student leaves college with $28,000 in debt, jumping your ACT or SAT score is still the best-paying part-time job a high school student can have. Finally, if two similar candidates apply to a selective college, and one has a college-ready test score and the other supplies no score, who do you think has the advantage?

So even if you’re not required to submit a standardized test score for college admission, maybe you should.

Interested in more reasons Why the ACT & SAT Matter at Test-Optional Colleges?