Former Admissions Officers Offer Advice on Test Optional Policies

InGenius Prep

Former Admissions Officers Offer Advice on Test Optional Policies

We’ve all heard the news—almost all colleges have continued implementing test optional policies after testing has been disrupted by COVID. Many students might wonder what factors become even more important now that schools no longer require SAT or ACT scores. We talked to some of our Former Admissions Officers who have read for schools such as UChicago, Duke, Georgetown, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Brown among others in order to understand how students can best take advantage of test optional policies.

What Do Colleges Focus on Now That There are Test Optional Policies?


“The easy answer is to say everything else! Frankly, the school transcript is the beginning point even when testing is available. A strong transcript can mitigate the impact of an average SAT but a great SAT rarely compensates for a weak transcript. AP scores (if available) and a challenging high school course selection will demonstrate academic strength in the absence of testing. The recommendations, interviews and academic/extracurricular activities will also become increasingly important, as will the essays with test optional policies in place.” - Former Associate Director of Admissions, Georgetown University

Evidence of Academic Prowess

“With test optional policies in place, I am looking even more strongly for evidence that the student can do the work, especially at highly competitive schools. So grades and APs take on a bigger weight, since readers will likely be mentally projecting what it looks like an SAT/ACT score would be. And any demonstration that you can do college-level work will also help. APs in school or summer or online courses for college credits for example. Though I don't recommend taking APs in addition to what your school offers (often there is too much of a break between the course and the test, and AP tests are at a busy time when time is tight due to finals and prep for APs offered by your school). College credit via other methods also means that you can take courses that are more interesting and distinctive.” - Former Admissions Officer, Top 10 National University

“Strong grades. It’s that straightforward.” - Former Admissions Officer, Top 10 National University

Academic Interests Outside School

“Admissions officers might look at whether students have pursued academic interests outside of the traditional classroom now that there are test optional policies. This could be as simple as taking online courses and as complex as pursuing research in a given field.” - Former Admissions Officer, Top 10 National University


“College admissions is a holistic review process. Going in with a high GPA but no or low SAT score is not going to make or break your entire application. Besides, you’ve got a very good asset with your GPA in your arsenal. Admissions officers at top schools value a high GPA because that number reflects sustained effort and accomplishment. Colleges will especially note if your GPA was earned through a challenging course load. If you’ve succeeded in honors and AP classes, and taken more advanced courses such as calculus instead of just taking algebra, it reflects very well on your abilities. You’ve worked hard over your four years of high school to maintain top grades, whereas the SAT reflects a single day’s performance. Your SAT score definitely matters, but know that your GPA does carry more weight in the process because of this. You could have just had a bad day on your SAT test date.” - InGenius Admissions Expert

The Activities List

“If you want to get into a top school such as Ivies or Stanford or MIT, you’re probably already aware that these colleges look for unique individuals who bring different backgrounds featuring a breadth and depth of extracurriculars. Top schools want applicants who have taken advantage of their current resources to make meaningful contributions in their community—and will continue doing so at their campuses. If you think you might struggle to fill your activities list, it might be too late. But if it's still early on in your high school career, you need to step out of your comfort zone and strive for leadership positions in areas that can help you stand out.

Simply being a member of common clubs such as debate or Model UN is not enough, especially with test optional policies in place. Think about where your talents lie and how you can use them to help your community or start an initiative that incorporates others. Colleges want to know how you’ve engaged in the opportunities at your high school or area to determine how you will thrive on campus. Think outside the box—what club can you start that doesn’t already exist? If you’re interested in business, start your own. If you’re a writer, start a literary magazine. If you’re interested in computer science, build your own app. Don’t just limit yourself to pre-existing pursuits. AOs want to see you step out of your comfort zone.” - InGenius Admissions Expert

It might be confusing whether or not you should submit your SAT/ACT score now that test optional policies continue to be implemented across campuses. However, you should consider all of the other components that colleges focus on in order to determine a student’s fit, and go from there. Watch out for more blogs in this series with the tag “FAO Advice” as we ask our Former Admissions Officers for more tips on admissions behind-the-scenes and FAQs from our students!

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