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, and even more did so in 2020 because of the health risks associated with testing during the pandemic. 

What does that mean for you? Even more ways for you to put your best foot forward when applying to college.

More than two-thirds of accredited colleges and universities have decided to forego or reduce emphasis on standardized test scores on college applications for the fall 2021 school year and beyond. 

At Willamette University, which has been test optional for four years, admission officers consider academic trends, course selection, co-curricular activities and community impact when making admission decisions. A lack of test scores will not limit merit scholarship opportunities – in fact, Willamette doesn’t even consider test scores when calculating merit aid.

“The challenges of this year have affected each student, even entire school groups, in different ways, and we would love to hear directly from you about that experience,” said Dean of Admission Mary Randers.   

Willamette offers optional admission interviews to any student who requests one. In a year where there is no standard or normal, having a conversation with your admission counselor can be a great way to shine in the college application process, Randers said.  

Similarly, the college essay will also have a greater effect this year on the admission process for Willamette. A powerful 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 Director of Recruitment Sue Corner

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

“The decision to be test optional better serves the diverse student body at Willamette and reflects our commitment to access and inclusivity,” Corner said. 

Willamette’s Regular Decision deadline for admission is Jan. 15. Students can apply for free through Common App. For more information about applying to Willamette, learn more here.

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