In this time of admissions disruption, it’s so important to stay informed. That’s why I make it a point to educate myself about the latest developments in the admissions world. I recently had the opportunity to attend a very informative webinar and wanted to share my takeaways.

As I’m sure you’re aware, since COVID, hundreds of colleges have transitioned from requiring standardized tests to a test-optional policy (at least temporarily), leaving applicants the choice to submit ACT/SAT scores, or not.

It’s easy to be confused about whether to send scores in a test-optional admissions environment. For starters, a “test-optional” policy is “a universe away from test-blind,” according to test prep specialist and webinar presenter Dr. Jed Applerouth. Unlike test-blind schools that omit standardized tests entirely from consideration, test-optional schools will look at whatever a student sends.

So if an applicant sends test scores, they will be included in the picture. And here’s the thing. As a Cornell admissions officer remarked about a weak SAT score, you “can’t unsee” something that’s been submitted for review.

So how to decide? Hopefully, these key points will aid in decision-making. Submit your scores if:

  • It adds value to your candidacy
  • You score in the upper 50% of that school’s testing standards
  • You score in the bottom 50% and you come from a disadvantaged background
  • You’re applying to an engineering program and score high in the math section

Don’t submit your scores if:

  • They’re in the bottom quartile of that school’s testing standards
  • They’re in the bottom 50% of that school’s testing standards, they won’t add value to your application (if you have a high GPA, for example), and you don’t come from a disadvantaged background

In addition, it is advised that you treat each school separately (as we do at Blue Stars). In certain instances, sending scores to target and safety schools while omitting them from reach schools might be the best way to go. Be sure to read each school’s test-optional policy to make the most informed decision.

Making an informed decision is crucial. As noted above, once you submit something, an admissions officer can’t “unsee” it, so you need to make sure that your score (and indeed all application components) adds value to your candidacy.

It’s also important to note that, contrary to what we might think, a test-optional policy actually leads to higher score ranges at colleges. That’s because the students who do submit their scores tend to have higher scores. I wouldn’t be surprised if the quartiles shifted 10-20 points to the right at many selective schools.

And, as if things weren’t disrupted enough, the test-optional policy is probably here to stay at many schools, leaving applicants with even fewer clear and quantifiable guidelines for admission to their dream schools. As Dr. Applerouth predicts, we are “entering a new normal.” It is one in which the qualitative components of your application will get an even closer look – your activities, your essays, your character, letters of recommendations, and other distinctions.

Due to COVID, college admissions is becoming more holistic and qualitative than ever. Since we are in the middle of this experiment, it is impossible to tell how these new developments will affect teens and the application process.

What I can say is that I’m enjoying coaching our students in responding to rapid change. They are becoming stronger for it, evermore resilient and ready for what the future holds. As one of my favorite pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus, declares: “you can’t step into the same river twice” (because the river itself is always in flux!). This is such an important lesson, and I’m so grateful the teens we work with are practicing how to weather change early in life.

Disruptions are surely irritating. They are also instructive. The more we accept change and understand it, the better we can plan for a successful future. I hope this reportage and these observations are helpful to you!