So What Does Test Optional Really Mean?
About one year ago, a wave of universities including many Ivy League schools came out announcing their decision to go test optional. This has rightfully confused many parents and students alike who are creating a proactive plan of attack to the college admissions process. Here’s a few things to know about the test optional movement.
Students STILL Submit Scores: Test optional means students are no longer required to submit scores in order for their application to be marked as complete. Previously, if you didn’t submit a score, nobody would read your file until a score was submitted. Current data, especially from the competitive schools, suggests that the overwhelming majority of students still submit test scores. This is publicly available data if you’re willing to dig, as most prestigious schools won’t admit the percentage of students admitted without test scores. Our recommendation is that you still submit a score if a school is test optional.
Colleges Profit from Test Optional: Colleges are actually incentivized to go test optional. When a school goes test optional, students automatically consider that school as a viable place to apply. The data shows that although more are applying, the same number of applicants are being accepted. Why would this be the case? This dynamic lowers the acceptance rate, making the college appear more selective and climb in rankings. Additionally, when more students apply the college profits from more application fees.
Admissions- Test Optional vs Test Blind:
Test Optional is NOT the same as Test Blind. Test blind means that even if you submit a test score, a university will not include the score in your file. While we recommend you submit scores for test optional schools, there is absolutely no need to submit a score to a test blind school.
Your GPA Still Matters:
Now, whether you’re planning on applying to a test blind or test optional school, your high school GPA is still important. Why? While standardized testing demonstrates how you do when compared to students across the world, your GPA demonstrates how you have performed over several years through exams, projects, presentations, and more with the resources given to you by your school.
So why do colleges care about your GPA in the first place? It all comes down to something known as a college’s retention rate, or the number of students who enroll as freshmen at a university and return for subsequent years of education. The higher the retention rate, the more money a university makes and the better it looks in the public eye. Statistically, students drop out of school primarily because the academics are too hard. Thus, colleges evaluate your GPA (in addition to your standardized test scores) to get a gauge for your academic ability and predict whether you will be able to handle all of the coursework at their school.
The issue with looking at GPA strictly from a number perspective is that it lacks context. For example, let’s say you’re comparing two applicants. One has a 2.8 GPA while the other a 4.0. You’d think the latter is more academically qualified at first glance. What if I told you, however, that the former took every AP class and was ranked #5 in her school whereas the latter took easier classes and was in the bottom 10% of the class, since his school uses a 9.0 rather than 4.0 scale. Now the story changes.
So what’s a good GPA?
Google the phrase “School X First Year Student Profile” replacing “School X” with the school of your choice. You’ll come across a PDF that shows you percentiles of GPAs of current freshman (e.g. 75% of admits had above a 3.6, 25% of admits had below a 2.5, and the average GPA is a 3.4). If you meet or exceed the upper 75%, then you likely have a “high enough” GPA. That being said, matters such as your college essay and activity list will be what make or break your application, so don’t forget about those. Check out our other articles for assistance on these parts of the application!