Should My Student Take Advantage of Test Optional College Admission Policies?

An increasing number of colleges in the United States are becoming what they term “test optional.”  Still other schools may be “test flexible” or even “test blind.”  These terms are not exactly the same thing, and it is important that your student know the difference and consider carefully what each might mean for him.

What do test optional, test flexible, and test blind mean?

According to, a non-profit organization which maintains a database of schools, more than 850 four-year colleges in the United States are “test optional.”  This means that the student may decide whether or not to send test scores as part of his admission packet. If he decides to send scores, he may decide which scores to send.  Schools which are “test flexible,” ask students to submit test scores, but the student may decide whether to send scores from the SAT, ACT, AP exam, International Baccalaureate, or SAT subject tests.  Other schools use a “test blind” policy and choose not to consider test scores even if students send them.

Schools opting for the emerging trend of the test optional approach include a wide range of sizes, mission, and selectivity, but many tend to be liberal arts colleges with a more holistic approach to admission.  More than 1/3 of liberal arts colleges have adopted this approach.  Many of the schools who have adopted test optional policies have done so out of a concern about an over-reliance on standardized testing and/or to increase the diversity of their applicant base.  According to, “test scores do not equal merit.”  Many schools feel that high school performance is a better indicator of college success than standardized test scores.

Should my student bother taking standardized tests if he won’t need to submit them for admission?

The short answer to the question of whether you student should take standardized admission tests is – probably.  Although it is tempting to skip the testing altogether, there are some important reasons to consider before opting out.

  • Without test scores, high school academic grades and extracurricular activities increase in importance. While this may benefit some students, others may find that solid test scores can counterbalance or compensate for a weaker high school GPA or fewer extracurricular activities.
  • Your student may be surprised at his score and receive a higher score than expected. He won’t know for sure how he’ll do unless he takes the test.
  • Although a college may not require test scores for admission, many scholarships or special programs may require scores.
  • Some colleges may require test scores if a student has a lower GPA. Having scores available to submit is especially important if some factor or factors during high school negatively affected your student’s GPA.
  • After a full review of your student’s admission material, a college might request test scores to complete the picture. Your student should have scores available if requested.

Students should also read all admission material carefully to be sure that scores are truly optional.  Some school may require testing with a certain GPA or may require a reflective essay in place of scores. Your student should not risk the possibility of needing scores and not having them available. Fee waivers for tests are usually available for those who need them.

The final decision

Making the choice about whether or not to submit test scores to a test optional school should be considered carefully.  Some students will welcome the opportunity to highlight other areas of their admission file.  Those students with a strong high school GPA, challenging coursework, low test scores, a special talent or high test anxiety, might benefit from choosing not to submit scores in order to demonstrate strengths in other areas.  However, students who have a lower GPA or fewer extracurricular activities may find that submitting scores will provide a more balanced application.  It would benefit all students, however, to take admission tests to be ready to submit scores if they are requested – either for admission or for scholarships.

Talk to your student about the many options available and encourage your student to consult his guidance counselor or college admission offices before making any final decisions.  It will ultimately be up to your student to decide whether to submit scores.  Make sure that he is making an informed decision.

Related Posts:

The Race to Place: A College Parent’s Guide to Advanced Placement

How Your Student Can Get College Credit Without Taking a Course

The Problem With College Placement Exams


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