In mid-June, Harvard announced an amendment to their admission process, making SAT/ACT scores “optional” as part of their college applications this coming year. The remaining Ivy League universities followed the Harvard test optional admission announcement. This included a reversal from Princeton University, which initially stated they would not be making test scores optional for 2025 grads.
To clarify, this change means that any applicant to these schools is no longer required to submit an SAT or ACT score (though they still can if they would would). Before this change, applicants who did not submit an SAT/ACT score were not eligible for admission.
So What Does This Test Optional Admission Change Mean?
Put plainly, you are no longer required to submit an SAT or ACT score in order for your application to be considered complete. However, the current data for other competitive universities that went test optional a few years back suggests that, across the board, the overwhelming majority—close to 95% of admitted students—still submit test scores. This is publicly available data on many college websites if you’re willing to dig a bit.
Similarly, several Ivy League colleges actually removed the requirement to submit SAT subject test scores in 2017. However, the data again suggests that the majority of admitted students still choose to submit these scores. Despite the Harvard test optional announcement, most students still take the test option.
Given the unprecedented challenges of this year, the move to test optional college admission makes sense. However, it’s important to note that colleges are actually incentivized to go test optional even outside of times of crisis. This is because it means there’s a higher chance more students will apply to the university. In turn, this results in their overall acceptance rate decreasing, which pushes them up in rankings and increases profits from application fees.
Should You Submit Exam Scores Anyway?
To be clear, we are NOT saying students MUST take a standardized test in order to gain admission to college. Fortunately, we’re seeing more schools move to a test-blind model. This means no students submit test scores as part of their application.
The University of California system, for example, has committed to being fully test blind by 2025. This is an effort to make admission more equitable among students from different backgrounds and privilege.
If you’re aiming to circumvent standardized tests (either because of Covid-19 or for other reasons), we recommend building your college list around test-blind schools.
Keep up with the Competition
Test optional, though, is a bit of a different story. Because there are still students who will be submitting test scores as part of their application, our recommendation is for students applying to test-optional schools to plan to submit test scores if at all possible.
The most competitive universities have an acceptance rate between 5%-10%. Will you be one of the few who does not submit a standardized test score over the next few years? Admission to top universities is never guaranteed. Your job with your application is to do whatever you can—with your essay, activity list, interview, and academics—to increase the probability the admission officer reading your application is on your side and will advocate for your acceptance.
By next year, we’ll have more data to confirm how test-optional admissions are really impacting acceptances. We will learn whether or not schools are treating this change as one that’s closer to a test-blind approach. For this year, we are urging all students to plan to submit test scores.
Manage with What you Have
Right now, there are added pressures caused by distance learning, test delays, and cancellation. What’s most important is that students do what they can with what they have. Ultimately, we believe students should work to get admission at a school that is the best fit for them. However, if you’re applying to a competitive school, do everything you can to give yourself a serious chance. We feel it’s in your best interest to be ready to submit a standardized test score. The Harvard test optional announcement can be good news, but may not be the gold standard.
For more information and insights on test-optional college admissions, take a look at this 4-minute video, here.