How Optional Testing Affects Your Chances of Getting Accepted Into College


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The merit of standardized testing has been debated for years, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that SATs and ACTs for incoming college freshmen finally became optional. As schools closed down and the future of testing became unclear, colleges had no choice but to suspend requirements for the submission of SAT and ACT scores. In the past, SAT and ACT scores have been a fundamental component of college applications, so the switch to optional scores is an experiment that many colleges are interested in pursuing. 

“A lot of places at least want to go four years [as test-optional], so they can see how the people who were admitted test optional do,” Jessica Vannauker, College and Career Facilitator, said. “After that, it’s still up in the air.” 

Currently, a number of Texas colleges, including Rice, Texas A&M, and UT Austin, are test optional for fall 2021 applicants. Many of these colleges have also extended test optional policies to include fall 2022 and even fall 2023 applicants. Although SAT or ACT scores are not required at every college, Vannauker believes test scores can still be beneficial for students’ chances of being admitted. 

“The biggest factor is just researching the university and what their average test score is,” Vannauker said. “If they are within the average or close to the average, I definitely recommend sending it in, especially if they’re going to a public university in the state of Texas and they need assured admission.” 

Depending on the university, test scores that are submitted affect students in different ways. 

“[At] Texas A&M, they will only look at the score if it helps,” Vannauker said. “If you’re on that border and they’re not sure, but you have a great test score, that could push you over the edge. If it’s lower, it won’t disadvantage the student.” 

Students who do not send in SAT or ACT scores may worry that colleges will assume they received a low score, but Vannauker, a former admissions counselor at Texas A&M Galveston, says universities are attempting to make the process as unbiased as possible. 

“You don’t know what’s going to go through people’s minds, but the thing about  optional testing is that a lot of places understand that some people couldn’t even test,” Vannauker said. “A lot of schools actually like not having those scores because it does make it more well-rounded, and it helps them look at the students a little bit more as a whole and how they would fit for the university rather than just the academics.” 

Optional test scores means that colleges must put more weight on other factors, such as the rigor of classes, grades, extracurriculars, volunteering, and essays. 

“Most universities that have gone test optional, now, if they didn’t prior, have some kind of short answer questions, and those have become extremely important to them,” Vannauker said. 

Vannauker recommends that students still take the SAT or ACT, even if they are applying to colleges where it is not required. 

“You never know, you may do extremely well and then want to send in those test scores,” Vannauker said. “It also just gives you a basis for what college is going to be like.” 

Senior Avi Bansal believes optional testing will encourage more students to apply for college without the hurdle of SAT or ACT scores. 

“I feel that it also makes the admissions process more ambiguous since more colleges are doing the holistic review as the primary form of reviewing applicants,” Bansal said. 

Senior Mo Afolabi prefers test optional applications and thinks it should remain optional. 

“It gives people a chance to consider their options,” Afolabi said. “College applications are about presenting the version of yourself you feel proud of, and some people aren’t proud of their scores.” 

This is why standardized testing has remained an issue in education – it doesn’t always showcase the true abilities of students. 

“People have test anxiety, there may not be enough time, they had a bad day and they can’t afford to take it multiple times,” Vannauker said. “I do think it definitely is more equitable and beneficial to students to not have it mandatory.” 

Even for students like Bansal who are still going to submit test scores, the removal of mandatory test scores is something they value. 

“I think that submitting SAT or ACT scores should remain optional,” Bansal said. “Many colleges have been implementing this philosophy of going test optional for a long time, and more colleges should adopt this new concept.”

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