What are the disadvantages to test-optional applications? Answered
I've noticed that for some colleges applying test options lowered my chances of acceptance. Does anyone know why this is? what are the disadvantages of using test-optional?
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There is clear forensic evidence that almost all top colleges that were TEST Req'd prior to COVID-19-induced test-optional policies are still somewhat biased toward giving the nod to those highly qualified applicants that also submit test scores. Part of the reason is that regardless of what the institutional policy is, many of the application readers have been doing this job for 10 to 20 years so they are more comfortable accepting applicants with high test scores since it removes some of the doubt and improves success outcomes in their minds. Colleges like Pitzer, UChicago, Bowdoin, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, and others that were tested optional historically for 10-plus years do not have this bias. So if you're not going to get a bump from applying to Bowdoin with test scores because they don't think test-optional is a temporary measure but a hard-line policy at their school. I think the biggest bump comes from schools like Georgetown, MIT, the Ivys, Elites, and some top liberal arts colleges just because they are flooded with more applications. Some like Colgate got 102% more applications in 1 cycle so submitting a high test score to Colgate will definitely differentiate you from the pack. You can verify some of this by analyzing common data sets and various college websites for their admissions stats. Schools like UPenn get like 60% std. tests submitted but 75% of admits have submitted test scores. So there is definitely a bump for submitting vs. not submitting.
So who should submit high SAT or ACT test scores then:
-Any applicant with a less than near-perfect GPA falling outside of 3.80-4.00.
-Any applicant with a gap in course rigor. For example, someone who didn't take 4 years of HS math and is 1 or 2 years short.
-Any applicant who is demographically challenged like a White or East Asian applicant. There are so many highly qualified Chinese, S.Korean, Japanese, and East Indian applicants at top colleges that you need a 75% (top of the 50% range) to be competitive.
Applying with a test score increases your chances at colleges where your score is much higher than the average scores of other applicants over the past years.
With Covid disruptions the last few years even taking a standardized test has been spotty, so some colleges have moved to "test optional" so as not to penalize those who couldn't take the test.
There have been many things that have occurred because of that decision. First, people are applying to colleges they traditionally would not have applied to because of their test scores, so applications are up at competitive schools. Second, and I think more important, is that those submitting test scores are those people with really good test scores. That has led to an inflation in the reported SAT/ACT scores at many universities. So if you are looking at a school with an SAT score slightly out of your range, apply anyway. This is likely due to score inflation.
The disadvantage of test-optional for admission is one less data point on your application. This could puts more emphasis on the rest of your application - your grades, ECs, and essay responses.
Also, it is important to note that most "test optional" schools are only test optional for admission decisions. If you want to apply for scholarships, most require an SAT/ACT score for consideration.
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