Test-Optional Applications have Increased Competitiveness in College Admissions

“I feel like I applied to more reach schools than I would’ve if I had had to turn in my SAT scores. I was also more able to focus on my school work than trying to get the best SAT score possible. I don’t really feel like my score is a good measure of my intelligence and capabilities, so I was definitely much more confident not having to submit them.” -Annabelle Jesse

Ashton Foltz and Owen Goodchild

I sat down ready to be smacked in the face with the cold, hard reality of my SAT score. My friends around me had already rushed toward the same goal and cheered about the beautiful future they would have now that they had proved they were good students. I braced for impact and shot a glance at the phone screen to find a completely average number. I felt proud of what I accomplished, but I received mixed reviews. My guidance counselor explained that while I would be ok showing my score off to colleges, I would be better off keeping it hidden. My father on the other hand mirrored my pride and wanted me to send it anyway despite what my counselor said. Finding myself caught between these two choices, truly all I wanted to know was “What does it mean?” “Why does it matter?” and “Is there a right choice?”

For the 2023 application cycle, more than 80% of colleges didn’t require SAT/ACT test scores to be considered in admissions decisions (Forbes). Originally, most colleges that began offering test-optional applications did so because of the Covid-19 pandemic, focusing on students’ GPAs, extracurriculars, essays, and other parts of their application. Many students are happy with this change. “I’m a good student but exams don’t really give me a place to showcase my academic skills because I’m a nervous test taker,” says Evie Gringas ‘23.

Other students didn’t experience a change with their applications. “I don’t think it changes anything… it didn’t really matter because my scores were already a little above average,” said Josh Scalia ‘23. 

By not requiring SAT/ACT scores, the value of good scores goes down. In previous years, students could have a “weak” application but have a higher chance of getting accepted because of a very high SAT score. Now, admissions officers look at all the other parts of an application, making the process more competitive for test-optional students. Test-optional schools also encourage more students to apply in general, meaning more higher-GPA applicants will apply to schools and get in, lowering the acceptance rate for less impressive applicants (Collegerealitycheck.com)

Several colleges such as Brown, Harvard, Duke, Yale, Dartmouth, and many more experienced record-breaking numbers of applicants in 2023. This increase in applicants resulted in many schools’ acceptance rates dropping significantly. This drop could concern current Juniors who look to apply to colleges for the class of 2028. If you are a junior, you may want to focus on the importance of demonstrated interest, especially in your top choices. Demonstrated interest could be shown by attending college events, taking campus tours, and proving your interest through writing on your application. This is very important in the eyes of selective colleges. With only a certain number of spots available for freshmen, colleges want to make sure that the people they accept actually end up attending their school.

Many colleges with test-optional applications will have this option through 2024, and some even for the foreseeable future. Current juniors looking to apply to colleges next fall should take this into consideration when they begin working on applications. Spending more time on extracurriculars, essays, and recommendations may be beneficial to applicants whether they plan to apply to a test-optional school or not. Rising seniors should also plan to apply to more safety schools (colleges with high acceptance rates) to have more fallback options in case acceptance rates take yet another drop.