Applying Test Optional to College: Is it an Optional for You?

The SAT and the ACT  are perhaps the ultimate high stakes standardized tests and sources of apprehension and anxiety for many high school students. Rites of academic passage, college entrance exams must be taken by every high school student who wishes to attend University. If you want to get into a top rated college you must perform well on either the SAT or ACT.  At least that is what you are told. However, a student at the Academy of American Studies could apply to many attractive colleges and universities, without ever taking the SAT or ACT. FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing now lists over 900 Colleges and Universities which make admission decisions about all or many applicants without requiring or considering SAT or ACT test scores. For some Academy students applying to college “test optional” may be a viable option.

    Whether applying test optional or not Grade Point Average (GPA) is a key factor considered by many college admission departments as it reflects your academic performance over a sustained period of time. Research supports this.  A Bates College study released in 2014 looked at 123,000 students at 33 U.S. colleges and universities that are test-optional. Researchers found that there was no substantial difference in college GPA and graduation rates among students who submitted test scores at these schools and those who did not. If you are applying test optional a strong GPA is preferred.

       Dan Edmonds, a college admissions counselor, educational writer  and a contributor to the educational website the Noodle warns prospective college applicants that applying test optional is by no means easy. Instead, it means every facet of your application will be scrutinized more closely. Writing samples, your college essay and any other supplemental essays or short answer questions you will be asked to submit are particularly important as they both provide you with the opportunity to tell a school’s admissions officer something about you that your high school transcript simply can not convey and provide evidence of your ability to write clearly and succinctly. Your resume of extra curricular activities can play an important role and should include internships and activities  sustained over time which you will continue to be involved in when you attend their institution. Strong letters of recommendation by teachers who know you well and can passionately advocate on your behalf are always a plus. Lastly, if applying test optional you may be required to sit for an admissions interview.

    If you are in need of merit scholarships to bridge the gap and make a private college more affordable, does applying test optional put you at a disadvantage? The answer to this question is yes. If you  want an academic scholarship which will cover the total cost of your education, most schools, even those which are test optional will require SAT or ACT scores. Even if they claim they are “test blind”, a student who submits high standardized test scores will often fare better than those who do not. St John’s University in Queens, a test optional institution is a good choice for an Academy student who wishes to apply test optional and remain in the New York Metro Area. Yet to qualify for the Presidential Scholarship which rewards the applicant with full tuition, standardized test scores are required. The university’s  website claims that test optional students are eligible for merit scholarships, but if you are looking for a more sizable merit scholarship SAT or ACT scores are strongly recommended. As The Princeton Review points out in its Article “Merit Scholarships for SAT and ACT Scores”, “higher test scores can lead to more scholarship dollars, which mean more options for you.”

    Where you wish to attend college also factors into the choice of whether to apply test optional. An informal survey which included several student interviews seems to detect several interesting trends. Many academy students appear to wish remain in New York City and commute to college. Others who are opting to leave New York City are favoring schools in State University of New York  (SUNY) system. Some are looking at small private colleges within the state. Washington DC, Boston and Philadelphia are popular cities for those who are considering leaving New York state.

    If you wish to leave New York City and attend a SUNY School,  or a private college within New York State or public or private college outside of New York State, many test optional choices exist. The first and often most affordable option for  many Academy students is  SUNY. There are currently two SUNY Colleges which are test optional, SUNY College at Purchase and  SUNY College at Potsdam. There are also many private small attractive liberal arts colleges within New York State which are test optional, such as Wells College, Marist, and Hobart William Smith. If you wish to leave New York State there are many attractive test optional possibilities- Temple University in Philadelphia, American University and George Washington University in Washington DC, Clark University, Brandies University and Wheaton College located just outside of Boston are a few that come to mind. If you wish to remain in New York City and commute to college you can do so without taking the SAT or ACT. There are several test optional private schools in New York City, such as the New School and St John’s University. If you wish to attend the City University of New York  (CUNY), as many Academy students wish to do there is a way to do so without ever taking the SAT or ACT, but this involves spending your first two years at community college.

     Applying to college utilizing a test optional approach may be a viable option for some students at Academy of American Studies. Is applying test optional a viable option for you?

Written by Carl Hanson


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