Who Benefits When Colleges Go Test-Optional?

The University of Chicago just became test-optional, the first elite school to drop its requirement for ACT or SAT scores. Although hundreds of colleges were test-optional before, this is big news because Chicago is a top-ranked school. They accept only 8% of their applicants, which is close to Harvard’s amazing 6% acceptance rate. Why do colleges go test-optional and what does it mean for college-bound students?

Chicago wanted to attract more low-income and first-generation students. They have a huge endowment fund, over six billion dollars, so they can offer very attractive need-based scholarships. Their previous ACT-SAT requirements tended to eliminate capable students from lower-income families because high test scores tend to correlate with high incomes. This is why they went test-optional. They are not lowering their admission standards. Their acceptance rate could go even lower, which will make them look even more competitive versus schools like Harvard. And they’ll have a more diverse student population, so test-optional will be good for Chicago.

Most other schools on the list of test-optional schools may have different objectives than the University of Chicago. They all want more applicants and lower acceptance rates so they’ll look better than their competition. They know that applicants with lower test scores will not send in their score reports, so the college will be able to brag their freshman scored higher. They can maintain their admissions standards and be as selective as they want to be, plus they can accept some applicants that used to be below the magic number. In other words, test-optional is typically a good thing for colleges.

Is test-optional also good for applicants? It all depends. Keep in mind that grades are always more important to admissions than test scores. Grades and test scores are usually considered together as the first hurdle in the admissions race. If those numbers are below the cut-off level (a mystery number) for the applicant’s demographic, then it certainly helps if low test scores are disregarded. On the other hand, consider who the admissions officer would select if two applicants have the same GPA but one has a strong ACT score and the other has no scores. Your student will be competing for that seat in the freshman class. You’ll want him or her to have every advantage in that competition because, unfortunately, the system is NOT fair.

Another fact to keep in mind: test scores are not optional for most scholarships, including Hope. It still takes good grades and test scores to get scholarship money.

If your student is a rising junior, start now to prepare for ACT or SAT testing. Call Ivan at 678-735-7555 to see how Dogwood can help.

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