Test-Optional Colleges: How to Shine Without a Score

Are you considering applying to a test-optional school? Many colleges and universities currently offer test-optional admissions, or admissions that do not require the submission of ACT or SAT scores. Given the daunting nature of the application season, test-optional institutions may seem ideal. However, shining without the concrete evidence of a test score can be more difficult than one might believe. Adhere to the “numbers” perspective to ensure your application still soars above the rest.

Numbers, numbers, numbers

How do you benefit from quantitative evidence? In the absence of the black-and-white result that is a test score, your application requires easily digestible facts and figures. How many AP exams have you taken? What is your GPA? How many extracurricular activities are you involved in, and of that number, how many have you held leadership roles in? Consider the “statistics” of your life – for example, if you’re third in your class or speak four languages, those are numbers that set you apart from the greater admissions pool. Frame your application in terms of statistics to present yourself as strongly as, if not more than, the test scores would.

More than just numbers

College admissions is not solely concerned with results. It is important to recognize that test-optional means the institution is interested in students holistically. A sure way to shine on any application is via stellar essays, recommendation letters, and transcripts. Without the ACT or SAT to open the metaphorical door, your writing skills must truly impress. Essays with fabulous stories and incredible circumstances will assist any application, but a strong, well-written narrative about a true passion will deeply affect the admissions committee. This is an opportunity to prove to the school you are more than a simple number, that you have pondered serious issues, applied yourself, and worked hard to become the person you are today in a manner that will flourish in their setting.

To send scores or not to send scores?

If you’re uncertain of test-optional admissions, consider the following questions: Does the quantitative data in my application show how strong I am both academically and holistically? Are my test results below the desired range for the school? Are my essays and other application materials sufficient to solely represent me? If your answers are “yes,” then test-optional admissions is a viable choice. If you’re still debating whether or not you should include ACT/SAT scores, contact the admissions office of your desired institution. They likely maintain de facto guidelines for test result submission.


This article was written by Andrea Deck

Andrea Deck is a professional GRE tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She is a graduate student at Columbia University in the class of 2015.


  1. fresh man

    So…this is not something i’d heard of before. Where/How can I find out about schools that are “score optional” other than looking at each school individually. Is there a list somewhere to reference?

  2. Pingback: April 2014 - Punch Newsletter By College Confidential

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