Currently in the US, the vast majority of colleges are test optional. That means that the SAT and ACT do not have to be submitted to most schools around the country. This is a policy that was implemented during the worst of the pandemic when no students were able to take the tests because they were canceled for months on end and when they did restart, it was always questionable if they would be canceled – so why prep for something that might not even happen.

Since then, with the pandemic easing and testing happening regularly and predictably, the test optional choice has remained in place at most schools. Some have gone back to requiring the tests (MIT last week) but most have stayed test optional. So what is a student to do? If you are a student that attends high school in northern NJ, live in Chatham, Short Hills, Summit, Madison, Livingston, etc., test optional may not be that optional for you. Why? Colleges have expectations based on where students live and the opportunities they have presented to them. Students from wealthy school districts should at a minimum, try one SAT and one ACT to see how they do. If the scores don’t align with grades, you should consider doing some prep to move the scores. If the scores are very low (SAT score in the 800s or lower or an ACT of 18 or lower), then it would make sense to sit down with a college counselor to determine if it makes sense to try to move those scores (they would have to move a lot to be worthwhile to add to an application) or figure out what test optional schools make sense. 

If scores are solid to start, it makes sense to try to move them as much as possible. Article after article mentions the climate of applying to college currently is tough, particularly for affluent, white students. School district after school district has been seeing fewer students admitted to the Ivy League schools or Ivy alternatives. The number of applications to schools has been exploding with numbers at larger, top schools getting 50,000 more applications than just a couple of years ago. Take into consideration that most college admission offices are not teeming with staff so an extra 50,000 applications is difficult to process. So what to do if you are them? You can start by filtering students with good grades AND good test scores. Will the tests ever be required again? Tough to tell. The College Board needs colleges to require the tests so they (and ACT) can continue to have two million kids a year test. The colleges get very helpful data from the College Board (when your child takes a PSAT, the College Board sells all of the info to any college that comes calling for $.47/name). It’s big business. 

So deciding whether to apply, test optional, should not be taken lightly. We believe that test optional means different things at different schools and learning to read the tea leaves is getting increasingly tough to do.