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To Send or Not to Send?

Updated: May 30, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic has unquestionably changed the standardized testing landscape in U.S. university admission. As SAT and ACT exam dates began to get canceled in March 2020, many universities made the decision to transition to test-optional admission.

However, it would be incorrect to assert that test-optional admission was a product of the COVID-19 pandemic because it had been around and in practice for years. In fact, 1,070 institutions were practicing test-optional admissions before the pandemic with an additional 660 temporarily moving to test-optional admission as a result of COVID-19. There is ample data that supports the inequities that have historically existed in SAT and ACT testing -- data that even executives at both ACT and the College Board have not been able to deny. So, the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for test-optional admissions decisions to be forced upon institutions of higher education who had long known, long recognized, but long ignored the impact of their testing requirements.

So, what does test-optional admission mean now as we wind down 2021 and head into 2022? And specifically, when should a student send their SAT or ACT scores to a test-optional university? Below are some insights into what the future looks like for standardized testing, as well as general advice for when a student should or should not send test scores with their application.

The Future is Test-Optional

While initial decisions to begin test-optional admission were temporary, the continued impact of COVID-19 on testing availability paired with the positive results universities are noting from test-optional application review point to the likelihood that test-optional admission is here to stay. Fair Test has determined that 60% of higher education institutions are test-optional into the fall of 2022.

Consider Your University List

While test-optional policies are largely here to stay, there are some hold-outs. Notably, the University of Florida system never dropped its testing requirement, and the University of Georgia system reinstated the requirement after the fall of 2020. As you work to build a university list, researching the institutions’ testing policies should be part of the process going forward.

When Should You Send Scores?

If you have taken the SAT or ACT and earned a great score, you should probably just go ahead and send it. Why not? What defines a great score is dependent on a number of factors -- where you are applying, the competitiveness of the programs you are targeting, and what your personal testing goals are. Here’s our general advice:

  • SAT: 1550+ ACT: 35+ = send it every single time.

  • Applying to universities that admit 20% or less of the applicants? Unless you have a very high test score, you are probably best served by letting your high GPA and other outstanding factors of your application shine through.

  • Applying to universities that admit 30-50% of applicants? This is a little more complicated because factors like competitive programs and competitive state school admissions could alter advising. Generally, SAT: 1450+ ACT: 32+ is a comfortable range to send.

  • Applying to universities that admit 50% or more of applicants? Check the admission office’s middle-50% for test scores. If your scores are on the higher end of this, you should probably send them. On the lower end? Consider test-optional admission.

There Are Always Exceptions

As noted in the advice above, there are always exceptions to general advising patterns. Of course, these exceptions will vary from student to student and the best way to learn more about your specific scenario is to work with an experienced college advisor.

Common exceptions include:

  • Competitive state universities: In these scenarios, evaluating the mid-50% of admitted SAT and ACT scores should be done alongside expert advice on those universities. Admission to competitive state universities depends on a student’s residency, program of interest, diversity, socioeconomic status, and more.

  • Scholarships: In some cases, qualifying for scholarships can still require a test score, even if general admission policies do not.

Still wondering what to do with your test scores? Click here.

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