Does Test-Optional Really Mean Test-Optional?

Does submitting SAT/ACT scores confer an advantage in college admissions? In other words, are “test-optional” admissions policies truly test-optional? It’s no surprise that these are increasingly common questions from parents and students, who find themselves perplexed amidst the uncertainty in the current college admissions environment.

The latest data suggest what many have suspected from the very beginning of this large-scale test-optional admissions era: the chances of admission for students who submit strong test scores as part of a strong overall application may be higher than the chances of admission for students who submit a strong application but no test scores.

Consider Boston College. Approximately 40,000 students applied for admission to the Boston College class of 2025; 7,536 of these applicants (18.9 percent) were offered a spot. A healthy majority—61 percent—of applicants chose to submit test scores. Of the students who chose to submit test scores, 26 percent were admitted; of students who chose to apply without test scores, only 13 percent were admitted. The most recent statistics from the University of Virginia, Wellesley, Emory, Colgate, Davidson, Notre Dame, and the University of Pennsylvania show similar outcomes.

While these data don’t prove anything—correlation does not imply causation—it would be foolish to dismiss them. College admissions has always been somewhat of a black box: we know what students are applying with, and we are aware of their admissions outcomes, but there is little accounting for what happens in between. Shrouded in secrecy and vagaries, the “holistic” admissions process has been made even more opaque by test-optional policies. While it’s certainly true that some exceptional students will gain admission regardless of test scores, it strains the imagination to believe that admissions officers aren’t being persuaded toward an “admit” decision by SAT/ACT scores that corroborate an already-strong application or that encourage a deeper look at an application that may be lacking in certain areas.

Of course, many schools have left the test-optional fray and are back to requiring SAT/ACT scores for admission. Among them are MIT, The University of Florida, United States Military Academies, Georgia Tech, and the University of Georgia. We expect more to follow.

My son and daughter are in 7th grade right now. But if they were juniors and were interested in applying to competitive colleges such as the ones listed above, you can bet that I would be helping them prepare to score as high as possible on the SAT/ACT.

This is not only to increase chances of admission—higher scores also vastly increase the potential of earning larger academic merit aid packages. Standardized test scores have long been a key factor used by many colleges and universities in deciding how much of a financial incentive to offer prospective students.

Though we can’t make sweeping conclusions, we encourage all parents, students, and educators to be practical and use common sense: preparing for and doing your best on the SAT/ACT will, at the very least, give you the option to submit test scores with your college applications, and may, in fact, give you a leg up in admissions.

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