Are you planning to go to college but concerned about your SAT or ACT scores? There are a number of reasons why this might be the case, from learning disabilities to poor test-taking and even objection to the role of standardized testing in the admissions process. In any case, if you’re apprehensive about the tests, you’re probably concerned about your chances to get into a good school.
While these concerns are understandable, you now have the option to consider some of the hundreds of well-ranked “test-optional” colleges in America to see if these might be good choices for you. These are universities with application processes that are either flexible about test score submission or don’t require them at all.
Pro: Numerous studies have shown that SAT and ACT scores are not always good predictors of overall academic performance. Students who score very well on standardized tests might in fact be ill-prepared for the academic rigors of college, and vice-versa. By removing tests from admission standards, colleges encourage students with potential but low scores to achieve at a level suitable to their talents. In addition, it could also discourage single-minded test prep in favor of creating a well-rounded skill set.
Con: Regardless of arguments for or against standardized testing as an admissions criterion, the fact remains that it’s well entrenched in academic culture. This means colleges who forego testing requirements might be perceived as less academically rigorous than those who don’t, discouraging high-performing students from applying. Some have also argued that test-optional policies are less about benefiting students than schools; when tests are optional, usually only students with good or great scores will submit them, leading to an artificially inflated higher average score for the school to boast about.
Pro: Many argue that test-optional admissions practices increase diversity among student bodies. A recent study by researchers from Bates College of 123,000 students at over 30 test-optional universities found that minorities, women, first-generation college students, and those with learning disabilities were most likely to apply without test scores (link). One school, Pitzer College, in CA, claims that it’s seen a “58 percent increase in diversity” while doubling the number of “students from low-income, first generation backgrounds.”
Con: Even if test-optional policies increase the accessibility of universities to low-income and minority students, it doesn’t necessarily increase the affordability. A student relying on Pell Grants who gets into a private university, whether or not they need to submit SAT scores, might still find themselves unable to attend if it’s got a $200,000 4-year price tag. However, a high SAT or ACT score can be a strong factor in some colleges offering scholarships to low-income students.
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and have decided that you’d like to include some test-optional schools on your college list, here are examples of six well-ranked schools from the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions.
- Bates College (Maine)
Bates College is a private liberal arts university in Lewiston, ME. A highly ranked National Liberal Arts College, Bates is well-known for its scenic New England setting and high academic standards. Very selective, with only 25.4% of students accepted, Bates accepts applications until its January 1st deadline with no test scores required. Despite being test-optional for over 30 years, for the class of 2017, 63.3% of applicants submitted some form of standardized testing.
- Smith College (Massachusetts)
Smith College is a women’s liberal arts college located in scenic Northampton, MA. Also a highly ranked National Liberal Arts Colleges, Smith is a member of the “Seven Sisters” group of Northeastern women’s universities. Smith students enjoy a vibrant academic life with a strong liberal arts tradition, science program, and low 9:1 student-faculty ratio. The admissions deadline is January 15th, with 42.2% of students accepted.
- Wesleyan University (Connecticut)
Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college in Middletown, CT offering undergraduate as well as graduate degrees. The top majors for 2014 graduates were Economics, Psychology, and English. While like the other schools on this list it doesn’t require test scores to apply, Wesleyan is the most selective of the bunch with only 23.9% of applicants accepted. The admissions deadline is January 1st. Of note, Wesleyan’s, Bates’ and Smith’s financial aid policies are to fully meet 100% of accepted students’ demonstrated financial needs.
- Allegheny College (Pennsylvania)
Allegheny College is a small liberal arts school located in Meadville, PA. It is one of Loren Pope’s 40 Colleges That Change Lives and encourages students with “unusual combinations” of interests and talents. Allegheny embraces the concept that standardized test scores do not exclusively reflect a student’s full range of abilities or the potential to succeed in college. In addition Allegheny recognizes that test scores can reflect socioeconomic factors. They have a test-optional policy as they are committed to educational access and equity. Admissions deadline is February 15th.
- Goucher College (Maryland)
Goucher College is a small liberal arts college in Baltimore, MD. whose beautifully landscaped campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In Fall 2014, Goucher College became the first college in the nation to create an application option requesting student-submitted videos as the decisive factor for admission. The Goucher Video Application was developed to simplify the college admissions process and to increase access to underserved populations. Regular decision application is February 1st.
- Wake Forest University (North Carolina)
Wake Forest is a small private university in Winston-Salem, NC. Wake Forest is committed to personal education, inquiry and exploration, and service. Wake Forest is a national leader in rethinking the college to career experience and is at the forefront of transforming the traditional concept of “career services” into a holistic, four-year approach to personal and career development. The application deadline is January 1st. While it doesn’t require standardized test scores to apply, it is quite selective with an acceptance rate of only 34.4%.
It is important to keep in mind the terms and procedures used by different schools. Test-optional is different than test-blind. Some colleges, like Hampshire College, are test-blind and will not consider SAT/ACT scores regardless of the score, and they will not be part of the assessment of an applicant.
There are also colleges that have test-flexible admissions. The SAT or ACT are not required if other testing is submitted, such as SAT II Subject Tests or AP test scores. At Worcester Polytechnic Institute students can submit standardized test scores or can choose their Flex Path option where students “are encouraged to submit examples of academic work or extracurricular projects that reflect a high level of organization, motivation, creativity and problem-solving ability. Examples include written descriptions of science projects, research papers, robotics or other mechanical design concepts, portfolios, or any other significant work undertaken independently or in school that the applicant believes is an appropriate reflection of his or her academic potential.” There are many variations and it is important to know the admissions process for each school on your college list.
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