Test Optional Strategy

Inspired by some posts on the alma mater thread. I’ve become really interested in the topic of test optional admissions starting with D23 last year, who applied test optional everywhere and really with S25 who is taking an SAT class this summer.

I don’t mean for this to be a thread about the value of test optional admissions, rather on the current strategy that you, your students, and their counselors are currently employing.

I’ve been looking at common data sets (it’s possible I need a new hobby!) from last school year and at most colleges that I’ve looked at, the percentage of admits submitting tests is plummeting. Many are hovering around the 50% mark, and that’s assuming that applicants are only submitting one test, where in reality many applicants are likely submitting both the SAT and ACT.

The “submit if you’re at the 50% or above” rule is going to just get ridiculous in the next few years as the reported scores get higher and higher. It seems that not submitting test scores to many if not most schools doesn’t have a huge effect on admissions anymore.

So what does everyone think, not about specific cases necessarily but in general what is the end game here? 10% of admits submitting tests? Lower GPA kids trying to offset with a high test score? How high does an SAT/ACT score need to be to complement a 4.0 GPA and a rigorous schedule?

Anyway, I couldn’t find a similar thread so I thought I’d start one. Would love to hear what everyone is thinking.

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Let’s limit the discussion to the question asked, as any extraneous topics have been covered elsewhere. Posts not complying are subject to deletion without comment


D24 is a recruited athlete and submitted her ACT score for the pre-read and will include it in her ED application.

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We plan to take a college by college and our counsellor says to submit anywhere close to 50% or above. She also mentioned that major plays a big role on whether to submit scores or not.

One of the majors our S24 is considering is engineering and she said submit the scores as much as possible. I recently saw UIUC which is pretty transparent and for the school of engineers 81% of students who are enrolled submitted scores. Where as students in school of education only had 32%.


I think @Izzy74 is more interested in what the score was relative to the range at this ED school vs the binary submit or not. Also, since your student is a recruited athlete, it’s probably helpful to know at what level his ED school is (D1, D2, D3, and any further delineation that might be useful).

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D3, fairly high academic. D24 has a 34 ACT and the middle 50% range for the school is 32-24.

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Yes, in general I’m interested in how this year and next year’s applicants are forming their test submission strategies. The 50% and above seems to be a common one but obviously at many schools now that 50% is getting really high. It would make sense then that the percentage of kids submitting scores will shrink every year.

To make it more personal, we expect, based on practice tests, that S25 will be somewhere around 1400-1450. Maybe he’ll surprise and do much worse or much better. There was a time when a 1420 or so was a decent score to submit to most competitive schools. A quick google for Dartmouth for example in 2017 the 25% was a 1340, but today it’s a 1440. S25 is a 4.0 student with tons of APs and decent ECs. He’s not aiming for the Ivies but its made me wonder how high his score would have to be in order for it to make sense to submit it.

I think major probably does make a difference. I would think that many engineering schools would want to see a math score.


I have an S25, and his older 3 siblings all had thorough SAT and ACT prep. That’s what he has seen and is normal to him, so he expressed an interest to test and to take both exams. He has started his prep with plans to take the SAT in Nov. and Dec. and the ACT in Feb and April (I think those are the months). My thinking goes 2 ways: 1. I really dont know if his score will be submitable because of only high scores now being submitted. However, 2. I still think a 32 or 33 is a very solid score that schools would be crazy not to value. It’s now “old school” to submit scores, I think, and colleges can fall back on the older system when they have a score which somehow seems more reliable to me.


Refer to my earlier post.

And to be clear, 17 paragraphs of explanation of why TO is good or bad followed by 1 sentence of your kid 's testing strategy is a candidate for deletion. I have deleted several posts for precisely that reason. I have neither the time nor the inclination to edit posts to only remove non-complying parts

It depends. For engineering Act 32-35 with 34 being optimal for most schools. So major does count. Also kids are compared to their school /district not yours. A 29 could be high for certain schools. A good score should always be submitted and there could be an argument that a high GPA with rigor will outway a lower Stat score. Harder to get in schools I think will rely on the Stat score more. I think we might see a reverse this year compared to others


S24 will most likely submit. Coming from an upper middle class town I think it is expected and if he didn’t, the assumption would be that he didn’t do well.


In terms of what a strategy might be: I would be inclined to submit test scores if they are close to the median or above. If only slightly below the median of reported scores, then I think that the test scores still make the point that the student is academically qualified to do well at the university. Also, as correctly pointed out in the original post, if only the students with the strongest scores report then the reported scores will be skewed higher than actual scores for the entire student body, and I am pretty sure that admissions knows this (I tend to assume that people who work in admissions are smart, and have done this before).

Perhaps I would look at the 25th and 50th percentiles, and only report scores that are no worse than half way between these two numbers.

In terms of what our strategy actually was, this of course was based on our actual scores. One daughter had scores that were slightly above the median at some schools she was applying to, and well above the median for others. She reported scores everywhere that would take them. The other daughter had scores that were somewhat stronger, and reported them anywhere that would take them. When applying to DVM programs test scores (either GRE or MCAT) were required, so the issue did not come up.

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This is what I had originally believed as well. D23’s counselor told the kids last year not to submit unless at the 75% or above. D23’s class is sending test optional unhooked kids to USC, NYU, Boston U, and Notre Dame. I do know one boy who was rejected at Auburn despite good grades perhaps because they do apparently like scores.

D23 applied TO to 13 schools, not top 50 so less relevant, but she was accepted everywhere and is attending Trinity U.

So who knows? I’ll be interested to see what happens this cycle.

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D22 applied TO everywhere, and in fact never took the SAT. Her ECs, transcripts and essays were strong enough that she got into one of her top choice schools and received a hefty merit scholarship/research opportunity.

S24 has taken the SAT once with no preparation, and is about 150 points away from a score that would be in the middle range for his top schools. He is doing some targeted preparation and will retake the test one more time to see how he does. If the score is not improved to his minimum target number he will go TO.

His transcripts are strong, his ECs are good and he has a unique spike. His intended majors are all humanities or arts based. I think it is in his best interest to devote more of his energy to crafting a stellar essay rather than focusing on intensive test prep.

We’ll see how it works out!

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My S22 son had a 33, and we paused on a few schools before sending. End of the day sent to all schools. I felt the 33 was comparable to his GPA and rigor. S24 does not have a strong score - he has a 4.0 and 12 APs so he will go TO everywhere but safety schools. However, he won’t apply to engineering or CS programs since he doesn’t have a score. I have been all over the CDS and I agree that the test submission rates are between 45-60% for the selective schools I have researched. In some weird way, it is easier to have a bad score then a so-so score, because if you are sitting at 31-32 you really agonize over sending to some schools.
There is also something liberating about not continuing the grind of prep work.


Yes, I think outside of a few schools and majors, it’s whether the score matches the student’s rigor and gpa. Which is often hard to evaluate.


I would ask the GC what their rationale for that decision is…I don’t know many people who make that recommendation in a general sense.

Separately, I would encourage students to listen to what the schools say in their admissions sessions. They often give guidance as to what scores to submit. For example, BC is saying ‘now that the pandemic’s over we expect students to take tests’, so apparently, even though they are TO, they prefer test scores. Auburn is also like that, as mentioned above. Tulane also tends to be very clear as to the scores that should be submitted.

And if a school doesn’t give this guidance in their admission session…have your student reach out to the AO and ask. Many AOs will tell a student whether to submit or not.


S22 went TO but he applied to schools between 50-100 so it wasn’t as critical in my opinion. S24 has a pretty aggressive list so I’m erring on the side of caution.

Caveat, my kid hasn’t had to face this yet.

That said, I would look at the CDS from pre-TO. If my kid’s score was above the 50th percentile back then I would submit it. If my kid’s score was in the 25th-50th range from back then then I would look and see what percentage of students are submitting the test. If a large number, then I would likely still submit. If my kid was applying for a super popular or high standard major at the school, then I’d also submit. If less than 1/3 submitted, and my kid’s profile was otherwise strong for admittance, then I would then consider TO.

At most colleges in the U.S., an SAT score of 1400+ is excellent and awesome. It’s only at the most competitive schools atop the USNWR lists with highly rejective policies where a score of 1400 might be an issue. If the schools your son is interested in don’t fall into that bucket, submit away.


Attend info sessions of colleges and listen to what the AOs are saying. Most GC in schools are clueless. Or, they cater to the majority of students that attend the school. Duke AO said if you are in the middle 50, absolutely send in your score at our school’s info session.