M.S. of Rockville Centre, NY writes:

While my high school GPA (96.40) is indicative of the work I'm capable of doing, my SAT scores (1490 combined), on the other hand, are not. What do you think about applying to colleges that are SAT/ACT optional? Will opting not to report my scores be considered suspect, hurting my chances of getting in?

The College Whisperer replies:

When a college says, "Test Optional," we'd like to think they actually mean it! No looking askance. No raised eyebrows. No second-guessing as to why an applicant has elected to forgo submission of those dreaded ACT/SAT scores.

Indeed, the whole premise behind "Test Optional" is to permit college admissions officers to evaluate a student's prospects based on other substantive (and often much more reliable) criteria, such as grades earned over four years of high school, honors and academic achievement, school and community involvement over the long haul, and, of course, those all important essays.

Colleges, and the venerable (we mock) College Board itself, long ago abandoned the idea that the SAT, and other standardized tests of its ilk, measure achievement. Hence that nuanced change, in name if not in nature, from Scholastic "Achievement" Test to the current Scholastic "Aptitude" Test. Of course, many colleges have figured out (and some are even beginning to admit) that the SAT is not an adequate (too strong a word) measure of aptitude either, as time has demonstrated that such tests are rarely accurate indicators of how well a student will do. For many if not most students, these arcane rites of passage demonstrate little more than how well one does on such tests. In short, performance on the ACT, SAT, or any of the alphabet soup tests, is absolutely no guarantee of future results. Period.

To date, more than 850 colleges have chosen to be "Test Optional," in whole or in part, with the likelihood that a gaggle of others will join the fold in the coming years. [Not that we need to take up a collection for the folks at College Board, mind you. They'll be sure to make up the lost revenues in other ways -- perhaps by cornering the market on Number 2 pencils.]

And it's not just colleges one might consider third tier who have opted out. Sarah Lawrence College, one of the most prestigious (and, dare we say, expensive) schools in the nation, is on the list. So too (certain limitations and conditions may apply) are the likes of Arizona State, Bryn Mawr, NYU, UNLV and the University of Texas. [SEE the list of "Test Optional" colleges and universities at http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.]

Will opting not to submit test scores be held against you? Well, ask the admissions office of any "Test Optional" college and they will tell you, flat out, "No." And weighed against the submission of sub-par (whatever that may mean to anyone) scores, where's the harm in withholding those pesky little mischief makers?

Look, if your scores are lousy (as measured against those of other applicants to the same school), and you have the option, hold 'em back. Where they give you the choice, for goodness sake, take it!

You are, after all, much more than your standardized test scores. [Just ask the 4th grader who, having achieved the highest possible score of 4 on New York's English Language Arts (ELA) test, pondering other aspects of her life unrelated to academics, asked her mom, "Am I a four?"]

Would that every college and university chose to opt out of the insanity that is the standardized test craze, relying instead upon real and quantifiable means of measuring an applicant's abilities and capabilities. [Would that we could read on the front page of The New York Times that College Board, having no takers for its myriad tests, and no schools to which students are obliged to send their scores, closed its doors forever!]

Alas, both College Board and the SAT are likely to be with us for generations to come -- or at least until global warming causes the demise of every tree on the planet, making the production of Number 2 pencils impossible. Until then, give the silly test your best shot, keeping in mind that it is only a test, and should your scores not measure up to your promise or expectations, go "Test Optional" when and where you can. 
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For more on "Test Optional" colleges, visit Fair Test, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, at www.fairtest.org.

Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.

Who knows what peril lurks in the college application and admissions process? The College Whisperer knows. . .

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