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Should I send my test scores to a “test optional” school?
Written by Jack Delehey on July 29th, 2022
3 years ago, test-optional was a rare term reserved for a small list of colleges across the country (think: the Wake Forests of the world, whose test-optional policies date way back to 2008!)

In 2020, a global pandemic hit, sending colleges into a panic. High schoolers across the country were having their ACTs and SATs canceled…straight up canceled! What to do?

Well, you likely know by now: nearly every school across the country made an unprecedented change: announcing they were going test-optional.

What exactly does “test optional” mean?
If a college or university has a test-optional admissions policy, that means they allow all or some applicants to decide whether to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their application.

Overall, the response to this policy has been positive. It’s given students more power. If they take a standardized test and receive a good score, submitting this score will absolutely, unequivocally help their application. And if they aren’t able to obtain a good test score (either because they took it and didn’t get the score they wanted…or like back in the early days of the pandemic, if their tests were truly canceled and they couldn’t sit for them…then submitting nothing won’t hurt their application).

But like a lot in life, this added option isn’t as simple as it seems. Logically, the next question everyone asks is…

What’s a ‘good’ score that’s worthy to submit?
Ah, yes. A great question. And one that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer! The reasoning is that the answer will vary for each school you are applying to.

To explain, here is an example…
  • Jill takes her SAT and receives the following score: 1310 cumulative. A great score!
  • For her top “Safety” school, the average SAT score for acceptance is a 1180…she should definitely submit her score to this school, as her 1310 stands out well above the average…and after all, test scores are still highly valued in the college admissions criteria at most schools.
  • For her top “Reach” school, however, the average SAT score for acceptance is a 1510! If Jill were one of my students, I would guide her not to submit this SAT score to this school. Her 1310 is significantly below the average admit. Submitting her 1310 will likely hurt her admissions chances.
One nuance to highlight here: using the phrase “submit scores” is a little old-school. Several years ago, students had to formally pay for and submit official score reports to every school (thank you, Mom and Dad, for paying for my dozens of score reports back in 2010!). Now, the vast majority of schools allow self-reporting scores. This is a great improvement that saves a massive headache (and saves parents’ wallets).

Q: What is the best resource to search for typical SAT/ACT trends at each school to determine if I should self-report my scores?
A: There are many out there, but my favorite is - Once here, you can search by a school, scroll to “Explore Admissions Requirements” and then see exact data on last years’ average test scores for that school.

Q: What thresholds are important to hit in order to submit?
A: Let me first say–this whole “test optional” thing is new…so my advice is fairly recent here. BUT, with that said, I’ve come up with the following rules with my current students I’ll share with you here:
  • ​If your test score falls below the 25th percentile, I recommend NOT reporting your score. Doing so will likely hurt your application (In the Vanderbilt example above, that would be an SAT composite below a 1470)
  • If your test score falls between the 25th and 50th percentile, it’s up to you. This is a gray area. For most students, submitting is likely the right move…but if you think your score isn’t very representative of your capabilities as a student, you can choose not to. Either way, your score (or lack of score) likely won’t move the needle on your admission.
  • ​If your test score falls ABOVE the 50th percentile, I highly recommend reporting your score. This score is exceptional compared to the typical applicant. Submitting will improve your chances of admission.
I stay up to date on admissions trends. So if I learn of new trends that allows me to adjust this coaching, you, my newsletter subscriber, will be the first to know! But for now, these tiers are a pretty safe guideline to follow.

Next steps
If you’ve got an about-to-be-senior, use to find these averages, take note of them. This should help guide your child’s test reporting (or not!)

And if you have about-to-be juniors, sophomores, or freshman…take this insight back with you and share with your high schooler. Perhaps even research a few of your child’s top schools. Even finding their standardized testing percentiles on will allow your child to have better expectations and testing goals to try to hit!

I hope this helps. Happy test-reporting (or not!)

P.S. - If you found this helpful and would like to chat about your particular situation, I’m always here.

Jack Delehey

Jack Delehey (Vanderbilt '14) is a college admissions expert originally from Concord, MA and now resides in Denver, CO.  It is his goal to pass on his college admission knowledge, strategies, and unique perspective to high school students in a young, fun, relatable, older-brother type manner.

The college application process is often confusing and stressful. But it just doesn't have to be that way! If you are interested in gaining clarity, peace of mind, and a detailed step-by-step program to help your child through the college application process, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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