What You Need to Know If You Are Applying Test Optional

There are now hundreds of colleges that offer a test optional policy. This waives the testing requirement and allows a student to apply without ever showing their test scores. Students have to elect to choose this option when they apply. If a student feels like their test scores don't accurately reflect their ability and they have a strong academic record in high school, they can apply through this policy. Here are some tips for students who believe they can offer more to a college than their test scores suggest:

  1. Do not self-report any test scores on the application. Self-reporting is optional, yet most students fill this section out on the application because they think they have to. Colleges that require test scores can take a look at self-reported scores, but they will need official scores sent from the ACT or College Board no matter what. Many times students use the Common Application for all or most of the colleges they apply to. If they mistakenly self-report their scores on Common App without realizing it, all the colleges including the test optional ones will see their scores.
  2. Check your high school transcript to make sure that it doesn't list your test scores. High schools receive official scores of all of their students, and many times they list them on the student's transcript. Review your transcript and ask your guidance counselor if it is common practice for them to report these scores on the forms they fill out. You don't want the scores to show up anywhere if you are applying under a test optional policy.

  3. Be ready to do more. If you are applying under a test optional policy you may be required to submit additional materials in place of the test scores. Sometimes colleges will require an additional essay, graded assignments, or even an interview.

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  4. Colleges that have a test optional policy are loyal to it. They typically have research that shows that a student's high school record is a better indicator of how well they will do in college. Students are not disadvantaged in the process by withholding their test scores at a test optional college. But their grades and curriculum in high school need to be very strong to be as competitive as possible.

  5. How should you decide? If you are wondering if you should submit your test scores or withhold them from a test optional college, look at the average test scores of the incoming freshman class. If your scores are below the average, consider applying under the test optional policy.

Test scores don't have to dictate a student's application process. Check out fairtest.org for a full list of test optional colleges. There are large and small colleges on the list, and plenty of highly selective colleges too.