MYTH BUSTER: 3 Reasons Scores Still Matter at 'Test-Optional' Colleges

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: May 5, 2021

In the wake of a “year like no other,” the numbers are starting to trickle in and we’re learning more about how the widely implemented test-optional college policies affected admissions. Already, the data bear out what we’ve been telling our students all along: it’s in your best interest to submit a competitive score in the optimal range of your top-choice school.

So, before you start throwing your application at all of the test-optional colleges with high acceptance rates, here are our top three reasons why your scores still matter at test-optional colleges:

Reason #1: Trends Show Higher Admissions Rates for Students Who Submitted Scores

There are higher admission rates for students who submitted scoresWhen it comes to many of the more selective schools, the majority of students who were admitted did submit test scores. For instance, in early rounds, 76% of admitted students at Penn and a whopping 93% of admitted students at Georgetown submitted test scores. So, the information available to date suggests that applicants who submitted scores had an advantage over students who did not submit. Here are a few examples of how the numbers shook out at some universities:

  • University of Virginia – The overall admit rate was 20.57%, but 72% of the 9,875 students who gained admission submitted test scores.

  • University of Georgia (Early Applications) – There were 20,900 applications with an overall admit rate of 39%, but when you break it down, students who submitted scores saw an admit rate of 49%, whereas non-submitters were admitted at only 26%.

  • Georgia Tech – 37% of the applicants did not submit scores, but of those who were admitted, only 21% had not submitted scores.

  • Emory – About 50% of the 33,780 applications included test submissions. Of the 6,892 students who were admitted, however, 69% did submit test scores, giving submitters a 55% advantage.

  • Tufts – Early admissions was reported as an equal split between submitters and non-submitters, but when all of admissions are considered, submitters had a 33.3% advantage.

  • Vanderbilt: 56.3% of applicants submitted test scores, but 61.1% of the admission offers went to students who submitted scores, giving submitters a 36.33% advantage.

  • Boston College Of the 7,536 admitted students, 39% did not submit scores and those who did submit had an 85% advantage in admissions.

The above advantages were calculated as follows: (Submitters Admission Rate – Non-Submitters Admission Rate)/Submitters’ Admission Rate

Don’t just take our word for it, Jeff Solingo recently wrote an article in which he said:

In general, my discussions with deans at about a dozen selective colleges over the last few weeks found that about half of their applicant pools applied without test scores. 

In every case I heard so far, there were lower test-optional acceptance rates in comparison to the number of students who did submit scores and got accepted. In some cases, the test-optional acceptance rate was twice as low for students without test scores vs. those with.

  • Emory: Admit rate 17% (with tests) vs. 8.6% (without tests)
  • Colgate: 25% (w/tests) vs. 12% (w/o tests)
  • Georgia Tech: 22% (w/tests) vs. 10% (w/o tests)
  • Vanderbilt: 7.2% (w/tests) vs. 6% (w/o tests


Reason #2: Top Schools Still Rely on Scores to Assess High-Achieving Students

colleges use test scores to assess high achieving students

This past year, partly due to the pandemic and partly due to the rise of test-optional colleges, we saw record numbers of applications being submitted, and that trend is likely to continue. Faced with an even larger, more competitive pool of applicants, admissions officers need all the criteria they can get to make difficult admissions decisions, especially at highly selective schools.

Like it or not, standardized tests provide valuable information about a student’s mastery of material and ability to succeed in a challenging academic environment.

In a recent article, Princeton indicated that it would not be making test-optional policies permanent. According to Princeton Dean of Admissions Karen Richardson, “We still see standardized testing as one important piece of a holistic process. It’s not the only piece, but it can be very helpful to us to help predict how students will thrive here academically.”

Dartmouth appears to have a similar perspective, and its Dean of Admissions, Lee Coffin, says he is conflicted about going test-optional. “It becomes a moral question,” he said. “I don’t want to admit someone who is going to struggle.”

If you are going to opt out of taking standardized tests and submitting your scores, it’s a good idea to apply to test-optional colleges with high acceptance rates. Prestigious, hard-to-get-into schools are still mostly on the fence about the whole concept, we likely won’t see very dramatic changes in their test-optional admission rates.

Reason #3: The Pandemic is No Longer an Excuse

covid is not a good excuse for avoiding taking the SAT/ACTAgain, 2020 was an anomaly. The test-optional policies came about because so many students truly were experiencing hardships, and many could not take the tests. But things have smoothed out for the most part and even though many institutions may continue their test-optional approach, colleges are more apt to conclude that students who did not submit scores likely did not perform well on the test.

One of the great ironies is that test-optional policies were intended to even the playing field. Perhaps that will be the case at some schools. But in the most competitive colleges, it created even more competition. With mostly only high-scoring students submitting scores, the bar is getting raised even higher and the average SAT and ACT scores among accepted students are edging upwards.

The Bottom Line: It’s More Important Than Ever to Put Your Best Foot (and Score) Forward

While “test-optional” may sound enticing, you probably still need to submit your scores – even at test-optional colleges with high acceptance rates. Submitting a score that meets the school’s average target can give you an advantage in an ever more competitive jungle of high-achieving applicants. To achieve your optimal score, prepping for your ACT/SAT tests is as important as ever.

We have plenty of programs and resources to assist and guide you as you navigate standardized tests, from advice about the free online options and practice tests to low-cost group workshops and more customizable private test prep. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

Topics: College Admission ACT/SAT Test Optional

Recent Posts