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Applying Test Optional? Your College List Matters!

If you are considering applying to a college test-optional by not submitting the SAT or ACT, you will be more heavily evaluated on your academic and extracurricular record. Thus, your college list development is critical. If your scores are lower than the mid-50th percentile going test-optional should be considered. It is not an all or nothing strategy; you may be higher than 50% at your safety schools and lower than 25% at a dream school. To illustrate this calculation, Northwestern University’s mid-50th percentile SAT is 1450-1540. If you scored a 1400, test-optional is your preferred strategy. Conversely, if your score is at or above 1450-1540, your exam results will be a persuasive piece of data for Northwestern. Applicants from underrepresented demographic groups will continue to benefit most from a test-optional strategy.

If you apply test-optional, you must present a GPA, class rank, essays, and extracurricular record that stand out. Remember, these components will be closely analyzed by admissions officers and compared to other applicants presenting their resume and scores. Admissions offices have shared that the more selective the college, the more outstanding other parts of the academic and extracurricular record need to be for a score optional application to be accepted. If you are considering this strategy at a highly competitive school, it is important to also understand that underrepresented groups have a substantially greater chance for admission than non-minority and/or upper-income applicants. For example, in the early round at Brown 51% of accepted applicants identified as students of color and 17% were the first in their family to attend college. Colleges will continue to utilize the early decision round to meet their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

You must be thoughtful as you develop your college list because indications are that 60% of your competitors will produce SAT or ACT scores next year. Develop your college list putting you, your learning needs, and priorities in the forefront. Ask yourself, where will you do your best learning and have the best chance to achieve academic success? Our experience tells us that students who develop a college list with this ethos first, putting ego and bragging rights aside, will be successful, happy, and challenged in college and perhaps the “dream school” is a graduate school after a successful four years at the “right-fit” college.


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