What does it mean to be test optional?

Navigating the college search in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a variety of uncertain moments and challenges. From pass/no pass classes to the inability to visit campus, this is a different year for both colleges and students alike. One of the biggest changes has been the increased number of colleges and universities who will be test optional this year. Test optional institutions allow students to decide whether or not they want to submit testing as part of their applications. While Bryn Mawr has been test optional for about five years, we still understand how disheartening this may feel. After all, students spend years preparing to take these tests and in a short manner of months the opportunity vanishes. For some students the SAT and ACT represent an important part of their academic identity. Now that testing is not widely available and colleges and universities are reviewing applications without scores, this process can feel more confusing.

But don’t worry — test optional policies are not new. More than 1,100 college and universities implemented these kinds of policies before COVID-19. While each institutional policy may vary, they all minimize the weight of testing in the admissions process. There are even some schools that are test blind, meaning that even if you submit test scores, they will not review them. So why would a college have a test optional or test blind policy? There are two main reasons:

  1. Access: Not all students, especially those from low-income, first-generation, or non-U.S. backgrounds have easy access to standardized testing. Location and testing fees can serve as a barrier to these tests. In turn, by requiring standardized testing, some colleges and universities are not accessible to these students who are unable to take the tests.
  2. Success: Research shows that standardized tests may not be the best indicator of student success in college. While high scores are correlated with strong first-year college grades, they are also highly correlated to socioeconomic status, race, and a family history of attending college. Additionally, given that test-optional admissions practices are not a new phenomenon there is quite a substantive amount of research which exists and affirms that a test optional admissions model does not diminish the academic merit of an admitted class.

While testing can be a good measure of academic success for some students, it is not the only or best way to determine a student’s readiness for college. At Bryn Mawr we employ a holistic application review process, which means we review several application components to determine a student’s fit for Bryn Mawr. For students who do submit testing, it will be reviewed, but will not be carry as much weight as a transcript, essays, or recommendations. For students who don’t submit testing, we just use all the other components to make a decision.

We believe in the merit of allowing students to discern whether testing is a strength they possess, in order to reflect on the way to put their best foot forward as an applicant. In a time where testing is inaccessible, we are pleased to provide flexibility to increase access equity. We look forward, as always, to getting to know students beyond the numbers to determine if they are a good fit for our community.

1 thought on “What does it mean to be test optional?

  1. I am so glad BMC has this policy. It was a “reach” school for me in the 80’s. My SAT’s were not in striking range of the average, but BMC took me anyway. The first semester was really hard, and then I did fine. Thanks for seeing my potential!

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