Test Optional: Understanding & Navigating

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

This week our focus is the subject of test-optional colleges and universities. In today’s message, we’ll define test optional, explain why it is a necessary policy for Class of 2021, and review some specific policies of schools currently adopting test optional admissions policies for the first time.

We will post all of this information here, so you can have a centralized resource to reference and refer others to when thinking through the subject. We’ll continue to update this resource.

Test Optional Defined
Test optional means students are not required to provide any standardized testing scores when applying to a college or university, though they are still accepted, reviewed, and considered as part of the application. Admissions officers will perform a holistic analysis of the students’ grades, rigor of the classes they’ve taken, and their other distinguishing accomplishments. The trend towards this holistic analysis—with standardized tests as an optional but not required part of the analysis—has been growing for years.

It is important to note that a test-optional policy does not mean test blind; in other words, if students have standardized testing scores they want to share, those scores will be incorporated into the holistic analysis of the students’ application.

Why Test Optional for Class of 2021
Considering the experiences of thousands upon thousands of low-income and low-access students, medically compromised students, and students with learning accommodations that cannot be fairly met because of school closures, admissions committees must take a fair and flexible approach to review applications from the Class of 2021. It simply isn’t an even playing field for those students who want access to taking a standardized test; therefore, waiving test requirements is necessary. We expect in the weeks and months ahead to see many colleges and universities adopt a test-optional admissions policy for the Class of 2021.

Specific Policies

As you educate yourselves on specific colleges’ test-optional policies, it is interesting to review a couple of specific policies from schools adopting test optional for the first time this year.

  • See the policy for Columbia in New York City. Note that the policy 1) is stated to apply necessarily only for 1 year; 2) applies to ACT, SAT, Subject Tests; and 3) encourages students who have scores to submit them as part of a holistic review.
  • See the policy for Cornell University. Note that the policy 1) is stated to apply necessarily only for 1 year; 2) it goes into more detail about economic hardship precluding the student from testing; 3) it specifies which colleges within the university are taking a not-required versus optional position; and 4) it explains that in the admissions process students who don’t submit test scores may need to submit other application documents to indicate evidence of excellent academic preparation.

Key Takeaways

Test optional does not necessarily mean test blind. If students can distinguish themselves by a test score, along with other essential academic criteria, then that score will be taken into consideration in a holistic evaluation. This is good news for our students who prepared for and have already taken tests or still continue to prepare to do so. Some counselors have made the case that test scores are especially relevant now as grading policies and GPAs are being adjusted this spring and potentially this fall.

However, for those who lack access, colleges and universities—by going test optional—are promoting necessary equity and access for students, especially under current circumstances. This is good news for our students most adversely affected—they will still be evaluated holistically.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

Matthew Pietrafetta

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