top of page
  • Writer's pictureDonna Baines

Decoding Test-Optional Admissions: When it Makes Sense and When it Doesn't

The traditional college application process has long revolved around standardized test scores, most notably the SAT and ACT. However, recent years have seen a significant shift in the landscape of higher education with the emergence of test-optional admissions policies. These policies, which allow students to decide whether or not to submit their standardized test scores as part of their application, have sparked debates among educators, parents, and students alike. In this blog, we'll delve into the world of test-optional admissions, exploring when it makes sense and when it doesn't.

The Rise of Test-Optional Admissions

Test-optional admissions policies gained traction in response to growing concerns about the equity and validity of standardized testing. Critics argue that these tests disproportionately favor students from privileged backgrounds who can afford test preparation resources, putting those from underrepresented and lower-income communities at a disadvantage. As a result, many colleges and universities began adopting test-optional policies to promote a more inclusive admissions process.

When Test-Optional Makes Sense

1. **Inclusivity and Diversity**: Test-optional policies can level the playing field by giving students an opportunity to showcase their potential beyond standardized test scores. This is particularly beneficial for students who have faced unique challenges or come from underrepresented backgrounds. Admissions committees can better evaluate a student's accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities, leading to a more diverse student body.

2. **Learning Differences**: Some students might excel academically but struggle with standardized testing due to learning differences such as ADHD or dyslexia. Test-optional policies allow these students to highlight their strengths in other areas and provide a more comprehensive view of their capabilities.

3. **Holistic Review**: Test-optional policies encourage colleges to adopt a more holistic approach to admissions, considering factors beyond just test scores. This can lead to a more well-rounded class of students with a diverse range of talents and experiences.

4. **Circumstances Beyond Control**: Unforeseen circumstances like personal illness, family emergencies, or socioeconomic challenges can significantly impact a student's test performance. Test-optional policies provide these students with an avenue to present their application without being penalized for factors beyond their control.

When Test-Optional Doesn't Make Sense

1. **Merit Scholarships and Honors Programs**: Some institutions use standardized test scores to determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships or entry into honors programs. In such cases, not submitting test scores could potentially limit a student's access to these opportunities.

2. **STEM and Competitive Programs**: Certain fields, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), might place a higher emphasis on quantitative skills. For students aiming to pursue these disciplines, strong test scores could bolster their application and demonstrate their readiness for rigorous coursework.

3. **Limited Application Data**: If a student's application lacks other substantial elements like robust extracurricular involvement, outstanding recommendation letters, or a strong academic record, not submitting test scores might further weaken their application.

4. **External Pressure**: Peer and parental pressure can sometimes sway students into making decisions that might not align with their strengths and goals. Some students may feel compelled to submit test scores due to external expectations, even if they genuinely believe their application would be stronger without them.

Navigating the Decision

For students considering whether to opt for test-optional admissions, it's essential to reflect on their individual strengths, circumstances, and aspirations. If a student has a consistent academic record, strong extracurricular involvement, and compelling recommendation letters, choosing the test-optional route might provide a more comprehensive picture of their abilities.

On the other hand, if a student believes their standardized test scores are a strong reflection of their academic aptitude and are aligned with their chosen field of study, submitting scores might enhance their application. Additionally, students targeting programs that specifically require test scores for scholarships or specialized tracks should carefully weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks.


The evolution of test-optional admissions policies reflects a broader shift in the higher education landscape towards a more inclusive and holistic approach to evaluating students. While test-optional policies offer opportunities for students to overcome biases associated with standardized testing, they also present considerations for individual circumstances and aspirations.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to go test-optional should be a well-informed one that considers a student's unique profile, goals, and the requirements of their desired institutions. By understanding when test-optional makes sense and when it doesn't, students can make the choice that best aligns with their academic journey and paves the way for their future success.

Book your first free career or college planning session today!

Donna Baines

Baines College Consulting, LLC

Donna has 20 years of college admissions and financial aid experience. She has helped thousands of high school students all over the United States with their college and career goals.

28 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page