Test optional ACT/SAT scores for college admission: what’s a student to do?

Test optional ACT/SAT scores for college admission

Yes and no. 

Many colleges and universities, including some elite schools like Harvard, are going test optional–at least on a trial basis.   The University of Missouri is currently also test optional.  So, what’s a high school student to do?  Now that the pandemic has eased, registering for the ACT or SAT is no longer the nightmare it was last year. However, not taking either of these high-stakes and difficult tests when they are not required is very appealing. 

What does “test-optional” really mean? Will it affect my chances of getting in and earning scholarships? 

Viewpoint 1: YES.

The  ACT/SAT are both optional, so you can send in your application without test scores,  knowing  it will still be processed for admission. Colleges are also awarding scholarships to students who don’t take the college entrance tests.  

Viewpoint 2: NO. 

The ACT/SAT are not truly  test optional because students may limit their access to some scholarship and professional programs by not sending in test scores. The application process is different, and students must submit additional information to bolster their application to fill in for their  missing test scores. 

Although the ACT/SAT have been widely criticized, they have played—and continue to play– an important role in the college admission process.  

Benefits of taking the ACT  or SAT versus taking the test-optional to get into college

Here are some potential benefits of taking the ACT or SAT test when applying to college, even if the college has a test-optional policy:

  • Enhancing your application: Taking the standardized test such as the ACT or SAT and scoring well can help demonstrate your academic abilities and potentially make your application stand out among others.
  • Improving scholarship opportunities: Some colleges use ACT or SAT scores to award scholarships, so a high score could result in additional financial aid.
  • Meeting requirements for specific programs or majors: Some colleges and programs may require standardized test scores, such as the ACT or SAT, for admission.
  • Providing a sense of preparedness: Taking the ACT or SAT can show how well you are prepared for college-level coursework and help you identify areas where you may need improvement.

Ultimately, the decision to take the ACT or not will depend on individual circumstances, such as the requirements of the colleges you are applying to, your own strengths and weaknesses, and your personal preferences.

Before you decide not to take the ACT/SAT, research your options and check out how the colleges you are applying to are dealing with the scores. Ask questions.  For example, what percentage of students who are awarded scholarships have not taken either test?  

The controversy over the need to take the ACT/SAT will continue to rage.  Right now, we are in an experimental mode after years of accepting that a test score was fundamental for an application to be considered.  Time will tell how the “committee evaluations” that are now being used to screen non-test score students work out.  In the meanwhile, know a strong ACT or SAT score will never penalize you. 

The University of Missouri’s test optional program for the students for the Fall 2023 semester offers one perspective of how colleges are dealing with non-test score applicants. Learn more by clicking the link below.


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