To Report, or Not to Report? Should You Opt For Optional?

Many colleges across the country have adopted at least some form of a “test optional” policy. Admissions officers instead are emphasizing an applicant’s character, commitment, and community involvement. Even pre-COVID, there was talk of colleges evaluating whether an applicant would be the “right fit” for their school on a par with standardized test scores.

But does that mean you shouldn’t worry about reporting your scores? Like most things in the college admissions field, the answer is a little more complicated.

Tests like the SAT and ACT aren’t the “ultimate” yardstick they used to be. They’re one piece of a puzzle that gets more complex, and for many students and parents, more stressful, every year.


Ironically, Test Optional Policies Can Make It Easier to Navigate This Road, Not Harder.


Two things to remember: if you don’t feel like your score is good enough to get you in range for the colleges you’re targeting, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a shot. Give the SAT or ACT your best efforts, and at the end you might choose not to submit them if they’re too far out of range. (And when we say ‘range,’ that information can be found at or, better still, placing a call to the college’s Admissions office.)

The second thing is that “out of range” doesn’t automatically knock you out of contention, either. One parent shared a conversation they had last year with an Admissions Officer at the student’s top-choice college. Not an Ivy League school, but no slouch either. The officer put it this way – consider that there are two students competing for one position in next year’s freshman class:

  • Student One submitted SAT scores, but they were a little lower than what this college usually looked for. Otherwise, Student One has a high GPA in a competitive courseload, wrote a really compelling personal statement, had impressive leadership roles and community involvement on their application, and demonstrated real interest through thoughtful, not-cut-and-paste responses to their supplemental essay questions.
  • Student Two had all those things too – the grades, the classes, the activities, the essay – but didn’t didn’t submit test scores.


Very likely, the officer explained, that they would choose the student who did report, even though the score might look a little low on the surface. Reporting a test score reinforces the fact that the student tried their best and sat for at least one test date. Very likely, that student put time, energy and effort into practicing for that test. And that shows an added level of commitment, in the eyes of an Admissions Department.

Scores aren’t cutoffs. Ranges aren’t absolutes. And with very few exceptions, colleges and universities want reasons to let you in, not keep you out. Think of your test scores as one color in the complete picture of your college applicant profile – not the boldest or even the most prominent. If you’re near the range for your dream schools, go ahead and show those officers you’ve got what it takes, that you’re willing to make the effort and that you know what it means to commit to improving even if you don’t make it quite all the way.

That’s a character statement. And in this post-COVID college admissions landscape, it will go farther than you might think.

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