As a college counselor, many of my clients will ask me, “What is test optional? What is test blind? How do I know if I’m a good candidate at a certain university?” Let’s address a few of these questions, and I’ll keep posting some of my observations to this page as a regular feature on the website.
College admissions has certainly evolved over the last decade. Many variables have played a factor in this evolution, but none so much as the pandemic. Many students (and their parents), anxious not to have their student paying college tuition while working from their laptops on the family sofa, took a gap year two years ago — making last year’s admissions extremely difficult, because the prior year’s accepted students deferred their admission or simply sent in a new application.
UNC, for example, had a 21% increase in applications last year. Many other schools, possibly nervous about attendance, offered “test-optional” applications.
What exactly is “test-optional” and “test blind?” Test-optional means that the university will look at your application, even if you do not send in an SAT or ACT score. Test blind means that the school will not look at any tests sent in and only evaluate your application based on all the other factors (GPA, class rank, extracurricular activities, essays, etc.)
This misunderstanding of the difference between the two terms led many students to apply to colleges that they would not have had the ability to be considered for prior to the school saying they would be test optional. For a very select few students, the rest of their qualifications were so outstanding, they were successful. These were students in the top ten of their graduating classes, students with outstanding and unique internships and extracurricular activities, and those who took extremely rigorous coursework over their years in high school. And yet still, the overwhelming majority of students who were accepted to selective schools were those who sent in test scores.
Let’s look at a few of the universities’ acceptances.
UNC-Chapel Hill Admissions – SAT and ACT
According to the most recent statistics available (Class of 2025), the mid-50% SAT range for enrolled freshmen was 1320-1500. North Carolinians possessed scores in the 1340-1490 range while out-of-state students sported mid-50% ranges of 1410-1520. (https://www.collegetransitions.com/blog/how-to-get-into-unc-chapel-hill-admissions-data-strategies/)
- ACT Composite (www.collegedata.com)
- 30 average
- 27-33 range of middle 50%
Clemson Admissions – SAT and ACT
- SAT Math
- 600-700 range of middle 50%
- SAT EBRW
- 610-690 range of middle 50%
- ACT Composite
- 27-32 range of middle 50%
Another drawback of not sending in a test score is that most schools use your performance on the SAT or ACT to determine merit-based scholarships. Other than athletic scholarships, some of our most popular schools in the region will not consider you for merit money unless you submit a test score. In many cases, the investment in test preparation (typically $1000-$3000) will yield merit scholarships upward of $60,000 – $165,000 over four years if your student is a match for that school’s score requirement.
That doesn’t seem like test-optional!
At Biltmore Tutoring, we are working with several students who graduated last month, but were accepted to a “test-optional” school and have now been notified that they cannot register for classes or specific programs unless they submit an SAT or ACT this summer. While we want colleges to look at every application holistically, we also want to make sure our students are positioned for the highest possible success rate.
With the Common Application opening on August 1st, our rising juniors and seniors are working hard to get that score that will lead to being accepted to their dream schools. As we often tell our students, putting in the effort now will affect your college and career future.
Certified College Counselor, Biltmore Tutoring