Test-optional admission: What you need to know before you apply to college

What you need to know before you apply

Dennis Kelly - Contributing columnist

Test-optional admission has been around for a long time as most two-year public colleges have never required prospective students to provide scores from such standardized tests as the ACT, SAT or newly designed CLT. It was four-year institutions that historically required applicants to provide such test scores.

In recent years, many colleges and universities have dropped this requirement for applicants interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree program. The primary advantage of waiving standardized test scores is to promote access to higher education institutions.

Schools have numerous reasons for waiving this former requirement. Many believe there’s a lack of evidence that standardized tests are valid indicators of academic success during the first year of college, while others contend the tests do not constitute an equitable gauge to measure academic preparedness for underserved populations of students.

I don’t intend to address the validity of either claim in this column. Rather, my articles are to inform college-bound, high school students and their families about the processes and jargon they will experience in the college search process. My goal is to help them make informed decisions as they navigate their journey to college.

Higher education institutions continue to require proof of a high school diploma or the equivalent, along with official transcripts. If an institution no longer requires test scores, they might request other indicators such as essays, letters of recommendation or other assessments, such as a certain grade in a particular subject.

Before high school students decide not to take a standardized test, it is important for them to understand any exclusions that the colleges and universities they are considering have regarding test-optional policies. Indeed, some specific majors might require minimum test scores for entry into that program.

Also, not providing test scores often can affect a student’s ability to receive merit scholarships or entry into an honors program.

Exclusions are often noted in college acceptance letters, but it might be wise to determine the policies involving schools-of-interest early in the college search process, as standardized exams are administered at only a finite number of times and locations.

Also, since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many high school juniors have experienced difficulty in finding testing centers open to administer the exams. As a result, some institutions have waived the test requirement for the next two years impacting fall 2022 enrollments.

I strongly encourage students and their families to carefully study all the information and ask a lot of questions.

Best wishes for a successful search.

Dennis M. Kelly, a nationally known enrollment administrator, has been presenting columns in the Wilmington News Journal on navigating the college search process as a service to local families. Kelly is the senior vice president for enrollment management at Wilmington College. He led WC’s enrollment team that brought in the two largest entering classes in the institution’s 150-year history. Kelly has consulted and presented extensively on higher education and post-graduation career choices.

The White House and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognized Kelly, a Vietnam-era veteran, for designing free courses for families of veterans serving abroad. He also received the Transfer Champion Medallion for his work in finding Hurricane Katrina victims special scholarships to attend colleges after their schools were devastated by the storm. Locally, he supervises the Clinton County SUCCEEDS program, which continues to make higher education more accessible to a record number of local residents attending Wilmington College.

What you need to know before you apply

Dennis Kelly

Contributing columnist