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Test-Optional Applications: Too Good to be True?

There are many factors to consider when applying test-optional. Over the last several years as a counselor, an increasing number of my students are asking if they should apply test-optional. Do they submit an ACT or SAT score for admissions, or do they follow the college’s criteria to apply without an ACT/SAT? 

Even before the pandemic took hold in March of 2020, many colleges and universities across the country were turning to test-optional admissions incoming freshmen. I believe this was for two reasons. For one, the GPA average is a better predictor of future college success than standardized test scores. And two, the colleges and universities are still willing to let you spend your money at their institution on tuition, housing, and fees. 

I believe students AND parent(s) should consider several factors before making their decisions. 

Does your child’s ACT/SAT fall in the middle 50% of students admitted the previous year? Admitted student profiles from the previous year can be found on nearly every college and universities website, take the time to do the research. If your student falls in the middle 50% or higher, submit the test score.

Is your child a poor standardized test taker and a great student? If the question describes your child this is a no-brainer, apply test-optional. Your child may have to write an additional essay, get an additional letter of recommendation, or conduct an interview, but they will have a much better chance of admission if they do not submit a test score below the middle 50%. 

Are top-tier scholarships still available at the college without an ACT/SAT? After doing some of my own research, I have found there is no general rule to answer this question. Some colleges can and do, reward top scholarships to students who submit applications without ACT/SAT. Some colleges cannot award top scholarships without an ACT/SAT score. The school might have rules in the college charter that prohibit scholarships without ACT/SAT scores. Be sure to ask an admission representative from the college when making final college decisions to see how scholarships are awarded. 

If you feel your child really needs to improve their ACT/SAT scores, get some tutoring. Increased test scores can save you thousands in tuition over 4 years. Be wise about how much you spend on tutoring. Often affordable tutoring can be found by asking your high school counselor or neighbors with older students who have been through the testing/application process before.

Shane is a college and scholarship counselor at a public high school in Addison, Illinois that serves the second-most diverse student population in the state.

For the past fifteen years, he has worked with families from diver›se economic backgrounds to assist and navigate the college application, scholarship and financial aid processes. He frequently presents on these topics to parents and throughout the community.

Shane also has 24 years of experience coaching high school football and women’s basketball, which has enhanced his ability to help student athletes navigate the NCAA Division I and Division II athletic eligibility process.

In addition to academics and athletics, Shane has supervised student international travel to Italy. He partnered with school and community organizations to provide quality international educational experiences for his students.

In 2012, Shane received the Outstanding Educator Award from the University of Chicago. In 2014, he was named a Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction by the National Society of High School Scholars. He has a bachelor’s degree in health education from Southern Illinois University — Carbondale and a master’s degree in counseling from Lewis University.

Shane lives in Batavia with his wife and two high-school-aged daughters. He enjoys running, cycling and attending his kids’ music and sporting events.

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