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High School

Should My Student Apply Test Optional?

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By Shane Cole

Before the pandemic took hold in March 2020, many colleges and universities across the country were turning to test-optional admissions for incoming first-year students. When COVID-19 shutdowns made it impossible for students to sit for the SAT and ACT, many more schools jumped on the bandwagon.

The test-optional trend shows no signs of slowing. Some colleges have become permanently test-optional, while others will remain test optional, at least for 2022 and 2023.

I believe this is for two basic reasons. For one, grade point average (GPA) and the rigor of a student's high school coursework are better predictors of future college success than standardized test scores. And two, colleges and universities need to fill their classes. If a student's GPA is good enough, schools will admit them because they will be paying four (or more) years of tuition, housing, and fees.

So, over my last several years with My College Planning Team, I’ve heard this question more and more: Should I apply test-optional? I believe students AND parents should consider several factors before making their decisions.

1. Does your child’s ACT/SAT fall in the middle 50 percent or higher of students admitted the previous year?

Admitted student profiles from the previous year can be found on nearly every college and university website. Take the time and do the research. If your student falls in the middle 50 percent or higher, submit the test score.

2. Is your child a great student but a poor standardized test taker?

This is a no-brainer: apply test optional. Your student may have to write an additional essay, get an additional letter of recommendation, or sit for an interview, but they will have a much better chance of admission if they do not submit a test score below the middle 50 percent.

3. Are top-tier scholarships still available at the college without an ACT/SAT?

After doing some of my research, I have found no general rule to answer this question. Some colleges can and do, reward top scholarships to students who submit applications without ACT/SAT.

But some colleges cannot. The school might have policies that prohibit scholarships without ACT/SAT scores. Be sure to ask an admission representative from the college when making final college decisions to see how scholarships are awarded.

If your student needs to submit test scores, but those scores aren’t up to snuff, be practical and encourage them to apply to schools with test-optional policies. For current high school seniors, finding tutoring and test dates late in the admissions process may be difficult and not cost-effective.

If you are the parent of a junior, there is time to focus on good test preparation. Increased test scores can save you thousands in tuition over four years. Be wise about how much you spend on tutoring. Often, affordable tutoring can be found by asking a high school counselor or neighbors with older students who have been through the testing and application process before.

Test-optional college admission is here to stay, but it’s not for everyone.

Shane Cole is My College Planning Team's community development director and a public high school scholarship counselor. He has a bachelor’s degree in health education from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a master’s in counseling from Lewis University. Please contact MCPT to get valuable information for your child’s college future.
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