What Does “Test-Optional” Really Mean?

Phoebe Keyes, Senior College Admission Advisor Apr 2020
 

As colleges struggle to figure out what COVID-19 will mean for their current students, applicants, and faculty, they’ve been slow to reassure high school juniors and sophomores. But as more information trickles in about COVID-related changes to admission policy, we want to make sure we’re keeping you up to date. 

Last week, a handful of schools, including Tufts, Scripps, and Boston University, announced new test optional policies. (Each school’s policy is a little different. Tufts will be test optional for the next three years. Boston University’s policy will only apply to current juniors.) 

The University of California system announced Wednesday that it was waiving its testing requirement for students applying for fall 2021 freshman admission. In early February before the COVID crisis, the University of California voted to continue requiring the SAT and ACT as components of an application, so we expect the UC system to require testing, once again, in future application cycles.

Though these announcements reassure the class of 2021 that they won’t be penalized should the pandemic prevent them from taking tests as planned, we recommend that most students still submit scores to test-optional schools. At the very least, you should still prepare and sit for these exams as originally intended. Strong scores will still be a boon to your application even if they are not required.

That said, if the impact of COVID-19 on your exam schedule is irremediable, make sure you communicate your situation to colleges effectively. If you need to revise the number of exams you take—or if you feel your scores might suffer from this new timeline—keep your high school guidance office in the loop. When they write your recommendation letter, they’ll be able to provide colleges with helpful context. 

You can also make use of the “Additional Info” section of the Common Application. While you never want to overexplain or make excuses, it might make sense to include a sentence or two about any changes to your original study and exam schedule. 


Most importantly, though, these changes to testing policy mean other aspects of your application matter more than ever. Use this time to familiarize yourself with the Common App. And get started on your essay. Keep an eye on this blog—we’ll be posting essay brainstorming exercises in the coming days.


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