Test optional when just below the median for accepted students?

It is not a coincidence that year in and year out that many highly rejective schools (all need blind at least for domestic students) enroll 50%+ full pay students.

Beyond correlates and variables colleges include in their predictive analytic models, many of said schools subscribe to CollegeBoard’s “Landscape” tool.

They are truthfully need blind for individual applicants for a specific definition of “need” based on FA calculations. This does not mean that they are need blind for planning an expected entire class, or that they are blind to correlates of need or lack thereof (especially since almost everything in college admission credentials has some correlation to need or lack thereof).

Agreed. In fact looking at the consistency year-to-year for specific schools may be my next pet project.

I agree with your entire post. But the piece I have quoted above is what I think is lost on many people (including those on these boards). They think “need blind” means something different than this.

That’s very informative. Yes, being in the richest zip code doesn’t mean you are full pay. And being is a middle zip code also doesn’t mean that you’re not full pay.

But it does paint a general picture. If you now limited that chart not just to all common app college applicants, but to only those applying to private universities, I bet it would be even more skewed towards the richest zip code.

So if more than 50% of applicants are from the richest zip code… probably even higher in private universities… Then it really isn’t shocking if nearly 50% of enrolled students are full pay.

It’s actually a small percentage of the total 18-24 year-old youth that are enrolled in private universities. Not shocking that group might be skewed heavily towards upper income households.

Oh, you were on the varsity (pick one:) squash, sailing, crew, ski team? Welcome!


High school golf champion.
Volunteer activities included the “Giving back” day at the Country Club…
unpaid internships… at the companies of your parents’ friends…
Paid summer programs for your academic advancement…

A much more impressive resume than the kid who worked 25 hours per week as a cashier, leaving little time for extracurriculars…

In ongoing communication, now being told by my son’s college advisor to NOT submit any score below last year’s median. Which is getting to the point of not submitting any score below about the 97th percentile for many non-T20 schools. It seems crazy to me, not sure whether my son will follow that advice. I continue to believe that if you’re fairly close to the median, it makes sense to submit.

I think there may be an assumption by some advisors that scores will just keep increasing indefinitely until they hit 1590 SATs as the median.

But, if schools need to keep about 50% of their enrolled WITH test scores for USN rankings, that means they can’t just keep increasing every year. Because they just don’t get enough applicants with 1590 SATs to fill their class!
So maybe I’m being naive, but I think they will stop increasing sooner rather than later. I


I have always maintained and will maintain that it is much easier for a low SES kid to work up his/her standardized test scores and be in the top 5% versus cultivating career enhancing ECs.
Also, if a kid, any kid really, cannot perform adequately (forget excel) on an exam that tests what they should know based on their HS coursework, then that kid has a rough time ahead in college, particularly in a highly selective school.
Test optional favors the rich, it also favors a very small minority of kids that some of these highly selective schools need to admit to fulfill their targets.
I mean how could these AOs miss out on a kid from Iowa that volunteered at an orphanage in Namibia, especially when the parents’ EFC is full pay? It is a self-perpetuating circus.

Does your school have a track record of kids applying to top schools? Are the counselors generally considered competent? If so, then who is in a better position to understand how a certain college is going to view a certain score, the counselor or you?

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This isn’t the school counselor. It’s a private advisor. I’m scheduling a meeting with the counselor. In the Spring, the Counselor suggested submitting anything close to the median, with 25th percentile being the grayish area. The advisor is saying don’t submit anything unless it is over the median. (though then the advisor shared some data with me, which contradicted her conclusion – the data showed students with sub-median submitted scores getting accepted last year, while test optional students consistently getting rejected unless they had a major hook).
So there is a split opinion. They both theoretically might know more than me – though the advisor doesn’t seem to understand her own data-- And they don’t agree with each other. So it’s up to me, to determine which is more likely to be correct.

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Right or wrong, we let my kid decide. She had a 32 SS and submitted to all but Rice. As she said, she’s proud of it and wanted them to see it. Who am I to question that ?

She got two rejections and two WL she didn’t stay on (prob rejections too).

A third thought might be let your son decide. Give him access to the info and thoughts and let him own it. After all, it’s his college experience.

If you go TO and don’t get in, you’ll feel like - should have submitted.

If you submit and don’t get in, you’ll wish you went TO.

Truth is, there’s no way to go but if you have reaches, targets and safeties he’ll be golden regardless.

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I misspoke in saying “up to me” – Just meant I’m trying to gauge credibility myself. The final decision is entirely up to my son. I’m only telling him to speak to his school counselor in the fall, and then make the decision himself.
In the end, my job is to take him on campus visits… and pay for this whole thing.

Yup. That’s the problem. I think if it was me, I’d rather get rejected for giving them the information then for holding back information that would have gotten me in. If my scores weren’t good enough, so be it. But if it was me, I’d rather get rejected for having a score that wasn’t good enough than for hiding a score that would have gotten me in.

I agree - especially if it’s within range.

Is someone really going to say - the median is 1400 so that 1360, just throw them out??

Perhaps - but I can’t imagine. If anything, I might assume - they didn’t submit, probably a 900 or 1000.

No way to know what anyone thinks - but the (few) schools that do show acceptance rates by status, typically the submitter has a higher acceptance rate.

The counterargument is that they aren’t actually using the scores to evaluate the student, only to boost their rankings with higher and higher scores. So, they only students with test scores, if those scores are going to help their stats. Anything below the median won’t help the school stats, so the score is a negative.
Though I think that logic is kinda absurd – If the median is 1400, and only about 50% of students are submitting… You see it as a negative that the student has a 1390, when you can surmise that most of the students who aren’t submitting, are actually lower?

But that’s the thinking among some counselors and advisors right now.

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A red flag to be sure.

Your S can and should reach out and ask his AO at the schools on his list…many will give direction on what scores to submit or not (and if you don’t submit they aren’t going to go back and dig out your score).

He can also ask during admissions sessions, either virtual ones where it’s typically possible to ask anonymously, or in person sessions.

Some schools clearly want scores if you have them, and/or they just prefer scores. Auburn, Michigan, Emory are on this list. Schools that require test scores for merit are also in this bucket.

Your S might ask his AO/the AO running the admissions session something like does your school have a preference that applicants send scores? And if so, what guidelines can you share with potential applicants to help decide which scores to send?

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It is all very difficult to navigate.

Perhaps suggest that he ask for the school counselor the range of scores for unhooked kids who have gotten into these schools in the past (even before covid.) If this information is available, then that will give him a better idea than the median regarding what particular college expects kids from your school.

The median doesn’t matter. It is how your kid’s application stacks up against kids in his particular cohort. If there is an over-abundance of kids in his cohort who are submitting significantly higher scores, then submitting won’t help, and it may hurt.

But like @Mwfan1921 indicated, it is really a school by school decision and depends upon how they value test scores, if at all.


I had always thought BU was academically much stronger than its selectivity or rank reflected. May just be catching up.

So this school is BU… My daughter did a summer program there, and as part of the program, they gave them a personalized session with an AO. So, the question was asked. They got a very specific answer — They said exactly, submit 1430 and above, don’t submit below. Despite being told this by the AO, our advisor still thinks “don’t submit.”

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Ironically… I went there for law school (25 years ago), and had the opposite impression at the time – That their undergrad was academically mediocre. As I started to re-learn the schools with my son, I was shocked to find how much BU has advanced in just a couple of decades.

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