Test optional @ the private schools: dinged or not dinged?

Anyone have data or anecdote on how applicants without test scores are faring at the privates? Based on our (California/Bay Area/high stat) group’s results, I’m starting to think not having a test score made it exponentially harder to get accepted at even moderately selective schools this year. (As if the now test-blind UCs with their 15% application increase weren’t brutal enough!) Anyway, curious if people have seen data or formed opinions on this. It’s one thing to say you are “test optional.” It’s another if the reality on the ground is applicants lacking a score were grossly disadvantaged in the process of proving their suitability, no?

1 Like

In the COVID-19 emergency test optional scenario, there are four groups of applicants:

  1. Test submitters, who were able to get a test date and scored in the higher range of the college’s profile.
  2. Test non-submitters:
    a. Were not able to get a test date, but would have scored in the higher range of the college’s profile.
    b. Were not able to get a test date, but would have scored in the lower range of the college’s profile.
    c. Were able to get a test date, but scored in the lower range of the college’s profile.

Not all of 2a and 2b applicants necessarily knew which of 2a or 2b they were in.

It is likely that 2a was hurt, but 2b and 2c were helped. Within 2b and 2c, those who scored or would have scored at the low end of the college’s profile were helped more compared to those who scored or would have scored just a little below the median for the college’s profile.


I have a “2a” kid.

Applied to 12 schools, only two of which were public, the rest private. 3 safety, 2 match, 7 reach. Practice ACT was 33 or so.

Accepted to all safeties, 1 match, and 2 reach
Waitlisted at 2 other reaches
Rejected from 1 match and other 3 reaches.

Maybe kid was hurt in some way by not being able to submit scores in terms of possibly being accepted by more of the reach schools, but the one that mattered most said yes!


I’m a senior in norcal and didn’t submit (or even take the tests lol) and some of the more selective schools I got into so far are:
University of Southern California
UC Berkeley (College of Chem)
UC Irvine
Stanford (applied RD but received an early notice of admission on March 2)
Cornell (applied RD but received an early notice of admiss0ion/likely on March 15th)
Columbia (applied RD but received a likely letter idk when)


I agree with these high level groupings, but the devil will still be in the details: including important factors such as if the applicant was hooked…legacy, URM, full pay.


Are you an athlete? Because that would change things a lot.



1 Like

Without strong evidence to support this, I believe it was a highly unpredictable year for the 21s. It will be interesting when more information comes to light at the close of the cycle.

My S (unhooked, not URM) was extremely fortunate to get a last minute test in fall with almost no notice and do very well. Even though test blind he got better than expected results at UCs (I had extremely low expectations). However, at match and reach privates he struggled more than I thought he would, and we are full pay. Good rigor, solid GPA, but popular major. He ended up on a lot of wait lists at reach schools. Also interesting that he was outright rejected at Cal poly, which is supposed to be based on grades.

If I were a junior family, I would hope to travel and sort things out before the early round. Even though there were a lot of deferrals this year, I think early rounds were a big advantage in the test optional world. Had we been able to travel to one of his high matches, we would have considered ED2. RD was a bloodbath at that one and their % admitted was low. I would also try to get a test. There were at least some schools where accepted TO% was significantly lower than applied TO%.


Perhaps he did well in writing the UC essays?

CPSLO uses an MCA score; and older version (before test-blind) is described at https://mca.netlify.app/ . Unfortunately, CPSLO does not publish past MCA scores by major.

It has been claimed that the way CPSLO counts semesters of math and foreign language for MCA scoring requires students to include high school level math and foreign language taken in middle school on their applications, rather than assuming that the usual CSU validation policy (e.g. algebra 2 validates algebra 1 if the latter is not present) will take care of it. This can result in a substantial loss of MCA points if, for example, algebra 1 taken while in middle school is left off the application.

He had Latin in junior high and put it in the app. On paper should have gotten in. His GC checked his app too so I don’t think he made any entry mistakes. It’s all good since he probably wouldn’t have picked this school but was surprising.

I do think his essays were good and he has unusual ECs. We thought his Common App essay was the best though. He did fall down in demonstrated interest at some privates where he was not waitlisted. Virtual presentations were not very enlightening and he was pretty burned out by that point.

Nope, not an athlete nor a legacy. I’m a first-gen (kinda; mom went to college but didn’t graduate so by UC standards I’m first-gen, but some other places I’m not) low-income URM though.

1 Like

So first gen and URM. I was just curious as likely letters aren’t that common. Great results! Good luck.


Yes if I had a junior I would have them test if possible and ED somewhere. Not EA. But I realize this is not possible for everyone.


Only a small handful of colleges have posted admit rate for test optional vs test submitters, and most of the available information is for the early round which distorts things since I expected hooked kids are more likely to be submitters (particularly legacies). That said, the general pattern is the admit rate for test optional is lower than test submitter, but not large enough difference to suspect one group was favored over the other vs differences in quality of non-score section of application. Some specific numbers are below:

Total Class (ED/EA + RD)
Vanderbilt Total – 44% of applicants test optional, 39% of admits test optional
Tufts Total – ~50% of applicants test optional, ~41% of admits test optional
Wellesley Total – 60% of applicants test optional, ~50% of admits test optional

Only ED / EA
Penn ED – 38% applicants test optional, 24% of admits test optional
Amherst ED – 45% of Amherst test optional, 39% of admits test optional
Notre Dame REA – 49% of applicants test optional, 31% of admits test optional

1 Like

international here. I practiced an SAT and got a full 1600 without any prep.
The test cost is actually high in my country compared to my family income, like I can buy a smartphone of MI/Redmi in the same cost, so it was near to impossible to convince my parents. Also, I got to know about US admission in October,2020 so all centres were closed here. Thus, I had no other way around apart from going TO

I got rejected from 5 (MIT, F&M, Macalester, Colgate, Vassar) and waitlisted at U-Richmond and Reed.

Waiting for 4 Ivys and Stanford now.
Hope if that helps provide any insight