Test-optional schools add stress to college season


Jessie Mysza

College flags fly high in the college counseling cottage.

Shuffling nervously, Emma Condit ‘20 enters Dr. Navarro’s office to discuss plans for her future. Navarro’s room has a welcoming feeling, but all of the pennants on the wall stress Condit out. She thinks to herself, is my GPA high enough? Will I have enough time to complete my applications while also in the play?

On top of her long list of worries, some of the schools Condit is applying to are test-optional, and the question of whether to submit test scores to these schools is one more detail for Condit to think about. 

“I was more stressed [thinking about the test-optional factor]. I am not only being compared to applicants in general, but there is now an added ‘Did she submit scores?’ component,” Condit said.

Some colleges, including the University of Chicago, Arizona State University and the University of San Francisco, have become test-optional, which means that students have the option to refrain from sending in scores from standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT along with their applications. 

The rise of test-optional schools has presented Dr. Candy Navarro, FSHA’s head college counselor, with a new situation to help her students navigate. 

“I usually do not recommend for students to send in their scores, because the people submitting their test scores are the ones in the top 5%. The only time when I would potentially advise a student to submit a test score is if she had an average or lower GPA but her testing is really strong — maybe not in the top 5%, but strong,”  Navarro said.

One of the main ideas behind schools going test-optional was to level out the playing field with regard to race.

“Test-optional schools are supposed to level out the playing field, not just in terms of test prep but also for people from underrepresented groups. Data has shown that people of color don’t do as well on the test,” Navarro said.

The Veritas Shield spoke with admissions representatives at the University of Chicago, Arizona State University and the University of Southern California to get their takes. 

The University of Chicago, a test-optional school, believes that test scores are not always a reliable indicator of a student’s success.

“Some applicants feel that their test scores do not reflect their academic history and promise for the future and ultimately do not fall in line with the picture of the student that their transcript paints,” Madison Navarro (no relation to Dr. Candy Navarro), an admissions officer from the University of Chicago, said.

“Standardized test scores can be useful in reviewing a student’s academic preparedness, but they are not the only way to do so, and in some cases, they are not the best indicator either. Test scores can also be skewed by a number of different factors, and to account for this, we provide students the opportunity to apply as test-optional candidates.”

The University of Chicago maintains that whether students send in their transcripts or not, there is no advantage either way. 

“There is no advantage to students who submit their scores or disadvantage to those who do not,” Navarro said. 

Conversely, Arizona State University, another test-optional school, finds testing to be a helpful tool in determining admission to some of its programs.

“There are a few advantages to sending in test scores. Students can use SAT or ACT test scores to guarantee admission into many of our academic programs, and some subscores (such as the ACT Science, Math and English Sections and the SAT Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Sections) can be used to meet course competency requirements. In addition, test scores are required for students to receive merit scholarship consideration,” Sung K. Ahn, a recruitment coordinator from Arizona State University, said.

Without scores, Arizona State University bases its admission decisions on other criteria.

“Students who meet any of our admissions requirements (qualifying GPA, test score and/or class rank) will be guaranteed admission to ASU. In some cases, if a student does not meet any of those requirements, they can still be admitted via Individual Review, where we may consider additional criteria, including curriculum, grade trends and personal circumstances,” Ahn said. 

Both test-required and test-optional schools evaluate the entire application, but test-required schools, including the University of Southern California, think that test scores are useful indicators of academic success.

“We see value in requiring standardized tests, and we know there is much more to a person than the results of a test. We spend a great deal of time training readers on the appropriate consideration of standardized tests, including lessons on statistical relevance and limitations. A student’s entire application is considered, and a student’s academic record continues to be the strongest single predictor of success,” Kirk Brennan, an associate dean of admissions at the University of Southern California, said. 

The University of Southern California believes that standardized testing is a valuable part of the application, because it can help determine a student’s success at the school, even though USC looks at the whole application when determining admission.

“Our internal studies show that test scores help us better predict a student’s likelihood of succeeding here. Rest assured that when reviewing applications, we never look at scores alone; we are looking at the entire student. We are imagining a person. We are not using formulas or requiring minimum scores,” Brennan said.

So, what did Emma Condit do with her test scores?

“I sent them into the test-optional school [USF], because I thought my score would help my chances of getting in and maybe set me apart, because there are so many girls applying there from FSHA,” Condit said.