Test optional colleges — what does that mean for you?

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Willamette University

A record number of colleges and universities chose to go test optional last year. 

What does that mean for you? It depends. 

In general, a student has more opportunities to showcase their multidimensionality than ever before. More than 1,000 accredited colleges and universities have decided to forego or reduce emphasis on standardized test scores on college applications. 

Now the question is whether students should include scores in their application anyway. At Willamette University, which has been test optional for four years, admission officers consider test scores, GPA, transcript and course rigor when making admission and financial aid decisions. 

Sue Corner, senior associate director of admission, says it’s OK to submit an SAT or ACT score if it adds dimension to an application or if it falls within Willamette’s upper or middle range. 

Middle or upper-level scores can only help. Scores below the midpoint won’t necessarily affect a student’s admission, but could impact financial aid amounts. In that instance, students should consider the test option approach and rely on their GPA alone, she said. 

Although test scores once served as the second-most important measure of academic preparation, the college essay has since taken its place at Willamette. A strong essay will advance any application — with or without test scores — and taking the time to write an essay strong in both content and technique will help admission officers better understand your academic preparation, said Corner. 

Willamette decided to become test-optional after a long term study by faculty found little correlation between high standardized test scores and achievement or low test scores and lack of achievement. 

The study showed students who exhibited a strong day-to-day work ethic in rigorous high school classes were most likely to succeed at Willamette regardless of test scores. 

“We really think the decision to be test optional better serves the diverse student body here,” Corner said. 

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