test optional

Test optional colleges– a good thing and getting better.

My sister-in-law is a great example. She’s a Vice President at a well-known university, handles very serious situations that affect the health of the university on a daily basis, and is exactly the person you’d want in charge of those situations. She was a top student in her high school class and, in her words, “my SATs were awful.” In the 80’s, low test scores was much more of an issue and that limited her college options.

Parents often lament that college admissions is much more competitive than it was when they went to school, and it is. The number of students applying to college has nearly doubled since I applied. But there is good news too. For students like my sister-in-law and my daughter whose scores don’t at all reflect their ability, there are many more options than there ever were in the past. Highly selective schools like Bowdoin College or Wake Forest University have test optional policies that allow students to withhold their scores and have their applications reviewed on the merits of their transcripts and classroom performance.

My daughter was certainly the beneficiary of the prevalence of these policies. Her scores were well below what you would expect given her GPA and class rigor. If testing were mandatory for all the schools she applied to, I’m sure she wouldn’t have gotten into many of them. Fortunately, she was able to choose schools that were willing to assess her on her strengths in the classroom.

In addition to test optional, some schools like Middlebury College and New York University have
Test Flexible options, where the student can choose to send subject tests or AP exam scores in place of the SAT or ACT.

If you think your student would benefit from these types of testing policies, I’d encourage you to check out Fairtest.org for a listing of schools that have these kinds of options.

Many years ago, Brad Quin, an Executive Director at the College Board told me that the SAT will not tell you if you will be happy in life, if you will be successful in your career, or marry well. But it is a good snap shot that can give an admissions officer a reasonable indication of what level of concept the student is ready to learn next. His point was that it is just a snapshot, not anything that determines future success. So don’t panic if your son or daughter’s scores aren’t what they hoped they would be. There are a lot of options out there that allow a student to set scores aside, and the number is growing every year.


Written by Kennon Dick
Kennon Dick is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Prior to joining College Coach, Kennon was as a senior admissions officer at Swarthmore College, Drexel University, and Johnson State College. Visit our website to learn more about Kennon Dick.