When Jill Coughlin of Brookfield, Mass., learned she didn’t have to include her SAT scores in her application to the College of the Holy Cross (holycross.edu) in Worcester, Mass., she was excited.
“I didn’t feel as though my SAT scores were an accurate reflection of my academic achievement in high school. A four-hour test on a Saturday morning isn’t an effective way to measure intellectual commitment and competence,” she says.
Instead of focusing on vigorous test preparation, Coughlin, now a sociology major at Holy Cross, put more effort into her day-to-day performance in the classroom.
Which schools are SAT optional?
Many other students are taking a similar attitude upon learning that SAT scores are no longer a make-or-break factor of admission at many institutions. According to FairTest of Boston, more than 750 colleges and universities have eased up on their requirement for submitting test scores.
Institutions recently moving toward test-optional include Bennington College, Smith College, Wake Forest University and numerous state universities. Others have made their requirements more flexible by allowing each student to choose which test scores to submit, such as Hamilton College, Connecticut College and Middlebury College. For a complete lists of schools that have changed their SAT policies, go to fairest.org/university/optional.
What does it mean for you?
If the college you’re interested in is SAT optional, does that mean you should cancel your test-prep courses? Or should you keep along the same path?
Bowdoin College (bowdoin.edu) in Brunswick, Maine, has been SAT optional since the 1960s.
“It encourages students who may be very talented, but might not have scored well on the tests, to apply,” says Scott Meiklejohn, interim dean of admission. “Testing is just a small part of the application process. Essays, supplemental artwork, recommendations, transcripts—we’ll look at all of it, with or without scores.”
Baldwin-Wallace College (bw.edu) in Ohio is in its first year of allowing optional use of SAT scores, and director of admissions Patricia Rossman Skrha is enthusiastic about the move.
“We typically read a student’s file holistically, focusing more on the individual. If one area of the application didn’t fit with the rest, informally we may not weight it as heavily. Making this move publicly enables us to attract wonderful candidates who may have otherwise not applied,” says Skrha.
Do the colleges really mean it?
Even with the requirement lifted, many students are concerned that not submitting SAT scores will somehow work against them.
Ann B. McDermott, director of admissions at Holy Cross, assures students not to worry.
a school is truly test-optional, there is no hidden agenda or
behind-the-scenes consideration,” McDermott says. “If a student is
comfortable with their scores, send them in. If not, leave them out.
It’s up to the student, but they shouldn’t worry that their choice will
work against them.”
McDermott says she has seen students with
both high and low scores opt to omit them. By withholding your scores,
don’t feel that you are sending a negative message about your results.
Your next step
Having test-optional schools available shouldn’t cause you to skip testing entirely.
“Testing often takes place well before you have narrowed down your list of potential schools,” says Stephen Hitzrot, chair of counseling at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School in Acton, Mass. “It’s very likely that you are going to run across schools that require scores, so you don’t want to close doors by not taking the test.”
Though schools may be omitting the requirement for admissions, some do ask for scores later, as part of your complete package.
“After a student is accepted, we ask for the scores only for our own research and for student placement purposes; it’s completely outside of the admissions decision,” says Skrha.
Another reason for going through the testing process? The experience may prove useful if you opt to continue your education in graduate school.
Use the test as prep for the future
Though their de-emphasis on your SAT scores may make some schools look more attractive, keep in mind that it doesn’t mean the schools have eased up their admissions requirements.
“Nothing has lightened up in terms of admissions,” says Hitzrot. “You should still apply to a good range of schools, from those you consider a safety, to those within your comfort zone, to those that are a bit of a reach.”
With a wider pool of test-optional schools available, allow yourself to relax a bit, but don’t lighten up completely. Your best recipe for success is to apply yourself academically and work toward presenting yourself as a viable candidate.