Test optional really "optional"?

Hi I’m applying to college next year, and from what I’ve heard ~25% of students get in test optional and ~75% submitted a test from top tier data (e.g. UPenn). I also heard that this 25% are people who get sports scholarships, so essentially if you want to get into top tier you have to submit a test score. I got 1300 on PSAT, so I estimate around 1400 on actual SAT which is not very good. What do you guys think? Are test optional really optional?

We don’t have full admissions data from Penn this year, and Penn does not offer athletic scholarships.

If you are applying next year, I might use the 25%-75% admitted scores for the class of 2024, and apply with a test score that is at or above the median. In the fall, this will be something to speak with your HS GC about and get their take as well.


Thanks for your advice! Unfort I don’t think low 1400 will be even bottom 25th percentile :’(

Probably not, but if you have a high gpa and rigor, good ECs…all of the things that could make you competitive at an Ivy, you can apply test optional.


I believe the 25% test optional is from an announce Penn made about their early round – 38% of Penn ED applicants were test optional, and 24% of admits were test optional. Other colleges have different For example, in Amherst’s ED round, 45% of Amherst ED applicants were test optional, and 39% of admits were test optional. In Notre Dame’s REA round, 49% of applicants did not submit scores, and 31% of admits were test optional. The point is there is not a fixed 25% test optional rule. It varies by school.

However, test optional applicants seem to generally have a lower admit rate than test submitted applicants. I believe this relates to applicants who have lower test scores tending to have overall weaker applications in the non-score factors. For example, a significant portion of admits in the ED round are legacies at schools like Penn. I expect legacies are more likely to have higher scores , so they are more likely to be test submitters. This results in test submitter ED applicants being more likely to get the legacy bump in chance of admission, so Penn test submitter EDs are expected to have a higher admit rate than non-submitter, with all other application factors equal besides legacy.

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Yes, test optional is truly test optional.

What I think the data shows is that a less-than-ideal application that can omit a low test score isn’t better than a less-than-ideal application with a low test scores. Many students may think that since they can leave off their low score that they have a much better shot. As noted, there’s likely a positive correlation of overall application quality with test scores.

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Thanks everyone for your response!

What ACT & SAT scores are not worth reporting if test-optional?

It can depend (of course). You have to look at each college’s mid 50% test score data, admitted if you can find it (on school websites, also look at the student newspaper). If you can’t find admitted data, use matriculated student data from the common data set.

Generally, apply test optional if the test score is below the median. Absolutely apply test optional if the score is below the 25%ile. The 25% to median is a gray area, and can depend on the situation. Fundamentally, only send test scores if it strengthens the application.

Note that reported test scores for many schools are going to be high this year, so it may make sense to consider the scores in that context. The recommendation to report scores or not may also be different if the applicant is an underrepresented minority, low income, and/or first gen.


And to add to MWFan’s fine post- consider sending scores even to TO schools if you are homeschooled, come from a HS without a lot of college prep/honors/AP options, or if your scores (even on state level competency tests throughout your K-12 education) put you in the top % of test takers. Strong test scores can only help you.


What if the 50 percent range is really broad? USC’s freshman 20-21 profile shows “middle 50” admit at 1400-1560!

Are colleges starting to become Test-Optional? How will I know if the colleges we look at for our son (class 2023) remain Test-optional? BTW, we are looking at BSMD programs specifically…

In that case the median is about 1480, so if at or above that, I would probably submit (but you should also check the two subscores to see if there are any issues). Ask yourself if the test score helps your application…if so, send it.

Many schools are test optional, look here FairTest | The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, but confirm on each school’s website. Some BS/MD programs are TO, some aren’t. There are some good BS/MD threads on CC, such as this year’s: Thread for BSMD 2020-2021 Applicants (Part 2) - #2425 by collegeivy

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I see a lot of advice throughout this site to only send scores if you are above the median range for the school. I think admissions directors are going to assume the worst about the test scores if they aren’t submitted. If there is something compelling about your application that makes the SAT irrelevant, then it will not matter whether you submit it. If you are applying to a competitive major with good grades and run of the mill good EC’s, I think that not submitting the test will be a red flag.

Also, remember that not everyone was submitting SAT’s for the class of 2021, which will skew the SAT scores up. If 25% of the admitted students don’t submit an SAT/ACT, then that means that the reported SAT/ACT scores represent the middle 50% of the top 75%.


Hello, thank you for your insight!

If it’s possible, could you help review my ECs & demographics in PMs to see if my application is “compelling?”

All the above is great advice but nothing will replace solid scores, grades and rigor of classes. (throw in a great essay)

I don’t know how much I can help. I am going off feedback that my friends’ kids have gotten from their counselors. No one really knows how it is going to work. I have not had this particular discussion with my son’s GC yet. Maybe it will be the end of standardized tests and somehow admissions directors will be able to decipher different schedules and grading systems from thousands of school systems across the country.

Or maybe “test optional” is a way for schools to:

A) boost the number of applications it receives in the short term because they sell every kid on the idea that they have a shot at admission to [name your T20/T30 school] because now the SAT is not a factor. This boosts the rankings of the top schools since they look more selective because they rejected a few hundred 3.2 gpa/1150 SAT kids who would never have applied looking at the stats but were convinced to do so when the SAT/ACT became “optional”. Look at the application numbers for the top schools last year. They were all way up. Did they really get more selective, or just get a bunch of applications that they would not have normally received?

B) accept kids they would have accepted anyway but whose test scores will no longer drag down averages and hurt their rankings.

C) report a higher SAT range than they used to have because the kids in category B are no longer bringing down the average. This in turn bumps the schools’ rankings. This is important to consider for the incoming freshman class. The Median SAT score for the admitted students is really going to be the median of the Top 75% of admitted students, because it is safe to assume that those that didn’t report scores probably didn’t do very well.

My gut feel is that not reporting an SAT/ACT score will cause the admissions departments to assume the worst, but no one really knows.


Also it’s good for recruited athletes, hence good for the schools.


No problem, thanks for being honest.