What Is Test Optional? (Tips for Your High-Schooler)


As you’re working with your son or daughter to get ready to apply for colleges, you may have come across the term “test optional.”

In this video interview with our founder Ann, we explore answers to the most common questions we get about this “test optional” trend and what it means for your high-schooler, including:

  1. What does Test Optional mean?
  2. Why are many schools choosing to go Test Optional?
  3. Will it negatively impact my child’s application to not submit test scores?
  4. What’s the bottom line (what should we do)?

What does Test Optional mean?

Test optional is a policy that many colleges and universities have adopted so that students don’t have to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.

In fact, it’s growing in popularity. Seven-hundred schools across the country are now “test optional.”

But keep in mind, just because the school is test optional does not mean that every department in the school doesn’t require a test.

For example, at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, the school is test optional but the engineering department still requires students to submit an SAT or ACT score.

Why are many schools choosing to go Test Optional?

Many schools are going test optional so that they can diversify their pool of applicants.

test optional image 1

For example, if an applicant is outstanding in every way – an excellent GPA, but low test scores – they still want that student to apply and not be dissuaded from looking at that college.

So for that reason, schools are now taking applications without a test score so that they can evaluate students on their other merits.

Will it negatively impact my child’s application to not submit test scores?

Many colleges say that not submitting test scores will not have a negative impact on their admissions.

But consider a scenario where two kids have a similar GPA and similar outside interests and extracurricular activities, and one student has very good SAT scores and the other doesn’t submit a score.

They may wonder, “Why didn’t this student submit a score? Is it that they just don’t care? Or did they get an exceptionally low score?”

So if your student has the score within that mid-50th percentile range that the college is looking for (you can find this on each school’s individual website), they should submit their score because it can help to buoy their application.

What’s the bottom line (what should we do)?

The bottom line is that your child should absolutely still prepare for either the SAT or ACT (it doesn’t have to be both).

Because it’s likely that, for example, if they applied to eight schools, very few of those schools will not want to see a test score.

For that reason, you want to be prepared.

You want to have all your options available so that if you do need to test score you have it there and waiting.

In fact, my younger son even said to me the other day, “Hey mom, I heard that JMU is test optional, so I don’t have to take the test, right?”

I said, “Is JMU the only school you’re going to apply to? If not, then you still need to take the test.”

You want a lot of options for your child, so make sure they prepare appropriately and get the very best score they can to make their application stand out.

Next Steps for Test Prep

If you do decide taking the SAT or ACT is going to be the right move for you and your child, we highly recommend taking a practice test first.

If you’re local to VA and DC, click here to view our free SAT/ACT Mock Test schedule, where you can register for a full-length, professionally-administered exam.