On May 7, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents approved a new “test optional” policy for 12 of the 13 UW System campuses. We did a FB Live video regarding this announcement on May 8. You can view it here. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the state’s flagship university, will still require ACT or SAT scores as part of college applications. For all other UW System schools, the class of 2021 and 2022 will not be required to submit an ACT or SAT score as part of the freshman application. Here are answers to common questions you may have about this announcement.
Do I still have to take the ACT with all other juniors next March?
Yes. As of now, the state-mandated ACT exam will be administered to all Wisconsin public high school juniors on March 9th, 2021 and is required.
Should I still prepare to do my best on the ACT or SAT? What importance does it have?
Yes. Standardized test scores (ACT or SAT) remain one of the top three criteria for the majority of colleges in the United States. For the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the majority of colleges beyond the UW System, a strong score is an essential piece of your application. Most sophomores and juniors do not yet know the complete list of colleges to which they’ll apply. Ensure you’re fully prepared and have the greatest number of options available to you when it’s time to complete college applications by earning your strongest possible ACT or SAT scores. Proven ACT Test Prep programs can help, or you can prep on your own.
What does “test optional” really mean?
Test optional simply means that you have the option of submitting an ACT/SAT score. You CAN submit ACT or SAT scores. It is not required, and by not submitting a score, you won’t decrease your chances of admission.
What if I have a good ACT score? Will they just ignore it?
Not at all. You’ll still be rewarded for a strong ACT/SAT score if you submit it as part of your application. Test optional does not mean “test blind”.
Should I still submit my ACT or SAT score to a test optional school?
The answer is sometimes. It depends. For insight specific to your situation, schedule a free consult anytime. In general, for “test optional” schools, you should submit your score if it will improve your chances for admission and/or merit aid. Think of your college application as a portfolio that tells the story of you. If your GPA is on the low end of the school’s average GPA for admitted students, an ACT or SAT score that falls within the school’s “middle 50% range” for admitted students could help. You can find the “middle 50% ACT range” on a college’s website or use a site such as collegedata.com to find this. Your score should fall within this range, and ideally toward the higher end of that range. Other factors such as cumulative GPA and extracurriculars can impact the score you may need for your best chance of acceptance.
What about the impact of an ACT or SAT score on scholarships and merit aid?
Many colleges and universities reward strong academic performance with merit aid scholarships. Of the factors used to determine awards, the two most common are your cumulative GPA and ACT/SAT score. In many cases, a score beyond what you “need to get in” can dramatically increase your scholarship, and that extra effort and even expense to prep can make a big difference in which schools are affordable. Since merit aid policies vary greatly, you may wish to contact the admissions or financial aid office of any test optional schools on your list to know if ACT/SAT will or will not be used for awarding merit scholarships.
I still have questions about ACT scores, SAT scores and college admissions. How can I get answers?
We’re always here to help. Email Tom Kleese with questions, call Tom directly at 608-553-3445 or schedule a free consult. Freshman, sophomore or junior year is a great time to come in, get your key college questions answered and develop a plan for achieving your college goals.
I won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is no. The truth is, the ACT and SAT aren’t going anywhere. They will continue to be critical metrics for colleges when evaluating prospective students.
If all you wanted was the short answer to a yes-no question, there you have it. I just saved you seven minutes of reading. However, read on if you don’t believe me, or to gain a better understanding of why standardized tests will continue to be important for college admissions and the impact of some schools becoming “test optional” or “test flexible”.
Why the ACT Is Still An Important Part of College Admissions
From time to time, a parent or student will ask me why colleges use standardized tests as part of the college admissions process. Or I get an email from a parent asking about a news article they saw about another school going test optional. Understandably, they wonder if this signifies a trend.
Over time, will the ACT and SAT go by the wayside? No. The reason is purely mathematical. The number of college applications is on the rise. Generally speaking, more students are applying to more colleges than ever before. Admissions offices are deluged by applications. Having numeric, standardized measures of evaluating students is necessary from a practical standpoint.
Class rank and GPA are numeric factors, but High School A may be vastly more challenging than High School B in another city and state. And Student 1 may have taken significantly more challenging classes to earn her 3.6 than Student 2 did to earn his 3.8. Weighted versus unweighted GPAs — used by some (but not all) high schools – adds additional complexity.
The ACT and SAT are standard nationwide. Every student everywhere takes the exact same test, creating a handy standard metric that level-sets the view of prospective incoming students. Is it the only factor a college uses in determining acceptance? No, it’s not even the most important. It’s #3 after GPA and a rigorous course curriculum. But it is important. Even at “test optional” and “test flexible” schools, as we’ll see next.
So, What About Test Optional Schools?
Over the past 10 years, more schools have become test optional, and even more have become “test flexible” (meaning they’ll accept standardized test scores other than the ACT or SAT). View a complete list of the test optional schools online. But some context is needed to understand why schools go test optional and what it means for you as a college applicant who wants to earn acceptance and hopefully some merit aid along the way.
With nearly a decade’s worth of experience in college planning and having immersed myself in the world of college admissions, there are a few different groups of types of schools that emerge as I look through the list of test optional schools.
A good number of schools on the list are those that specialize in art, fine arts or design. Art institutes, music colleges, conservatories, the Julliards of the world, don’t place significant emphasis on the ACT and SAT in determining which students they’ll accept. Understandably, if you want to be an artist, dancer, musician or composer, your portfolio and talent is a much better predictor of how you’ll fare than your ACT/SAT score. This just makes sense, and it’s not a recent trend.
Another type of school on the list is national private liberal arts colleges, like Bowdoin (ME), Colby (ME), Smith (MA), Bryn Mawr (PA), Cornell (IA), Lawrence (WI) and Beloit (WI). Many of these schools are highly selective and very well-regarded. They also tend to have substantial endowments to help first-generation, low-income and students of color gain access to quality education. In an effort to encourage those students to apply, they’ve become “test optional” or “test flexible”. (A number of national universities have become test optional or test flexible for the same reason.) But some would argue that the test optional strategy has not achieved the desired result of making these schools more diverse. In fact, it’s had some unfortunate unintended consequences.
Another large group of schools on the list of test flexible/test optional schools are regional universities, those schools that tend to primarily draw students from nearby, within their region. Generally, these schools tend not to be highly selective. Becoming test optional may help them woo students from a broader geographic area, and perhaps woo more students in general. But even more alluring is their propensity to offer generous merit aid to those who meet certain criteria, including those with higher ACT/SAT scores.
It’s also important to note that even though a school is test optional or test flexible, many students who apply to these schools still submit ACT/SAT scores. Those that don’t invite closer scrutiny on their other “stats”. In other words, if I don’t have your ACT/SAT score to consider, I’ll pay much closer attention to your GPA, course rigor and your essay. So those all better be in good shape.
On the list of test optional/flexible schools are a number of schools that I like a lot and tend to refer to often when working with students on choosing a college. For example, the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. However, these two schools are on my short list in large part because they’re super solid schools that offer incredibly competitive out-of-state merit aid to those with solid GPAs AND good ACT/SAT scores.
Bottom line, no matter where you’re going to college, it’s hard to deny the fact that earning the best possible ACT/SAT score you possibly can will put you in a better position not only for acceptance, but to earn some merit aid that makes college more affordable.
What does “test flexible” mean?
A number of schools on the list are actually test flexible versus test optional. They’ll accept other forms of standardized scores, provided certain conditions are met. For instance, here’s one such quote, “Test Flexible: SAT/ACT not required if other college level exams specified by school, such as SAT Subject Test, Advanced Placement, or Int’l Baccalaureate, submitted — contact school for details.” Here’s another one from a “test flexible” school on the list, “SAT/ACT may be required but considered only when minimum GPA and/or class rank is not met. SAT/ACT required for some programs.” In other words, numbers still matter. Some test flexible schools only require SAT/ACT scores for out-of-state applicants, or only for certain programs or fields of study. But their appearance on the list is not at all an indication that ACT/SAT scores have no place in their consideration of incoming students.
ACT/SAT Impact on Merit Aid
Even if a school is test optional and you’re accepted, merit aid is nearly always dependent upon ACT/SAT scores. The higher your score, the higher the likelihood that you’ll earn merit aid. Many of the students I work with for ACT Test Prep are as concerned about improving their chances for merit aid at their chosen schools as they are about earning acceptance to those schools.
At The End of the Day, The Best Strategy For Both Acceptance and Merit Aid is to Earn the Best ACT Score You Possibly Can.
If you have a stellar GPA and you rank in the top of your graduating class, but you bombed the ACT/SAT, restricting your college search to test optional schools probably isn’t the silver bullet strategy you’d hoped for. But should you choose to go that route, here is your shopping list of schools.
For the rest of you, I still advocate strongly for doing everything you possibly can to earn your highest possible ACT score.
And for those of you for whom this isn’t achievable, there are still many solid college options out there that will provide a great education and a solid next step toward a bright future. As much as a huge chunk of my job is about ACT Test Prep, my underlying mission and purpose is to help each and every student find their best college fit, their University of You. If you’re looking for guidance on college planning, schedule a free consult and let’s talk college.