Students are often unsure about submitting scores to test-optional colleges.

With the majority of colleges continuing to be test-optional this year, many students are wondering whether or not to submit their scores.  When advising students on this, I look at specific colleges’ data.  Colleges typically publish the middle 50% of scores for either admitted or enrolled students, meaning that 50% of admitted/enrolled students scored within that range, 25% scored below it, and 25% scored above it.

Colleges publish this data every year, and when deciding whether to submit your scores, it’s important to look at the most recent year’s data.  A couple weeks ago, when I was talking with a student about submitting his scores to a particular college, he said, “Do you think the score range is higher for this year’s freshman class because this college went test-optional last year?”  I told him that was a very astute observation and that it was, indeed, correct.

Although this student was asking about a specific college, there has been an increase in scores at many colleges.  In an October blog post, Jed Applerouth, Founder and President of test prep company Applerouth, pointed out that the University of Pennsylvania’s middle 50% of ACT scores for admitted students in the incoming class of 2021 was 35-36.  Keep in mind that a perfect score on the ACT is 36, so that means that 75% Penn’s of admitted students had at least a 35 and 25% had a perfect score!  The middle 50% ACT range for Penn’s incoming classes of 2019 and 2020 was 33-35.

In his blog post, Applerouth argues that when deciding whether to submit scores to a college that went test-optional beginning with the incoming class of 2021, students should also consider the score ranges from previous classes.  While I agree with him that the 2021 score ranges likely skewed higher for colleges that were not previously test-optional, I disagree that students should consider data from years prior to 2021.  After all, if a college is continuing to be test-optional for the incoming class of 2022, chances are students will continue to take advantage of that policy and will only submit scores that are at least as high, if not higher, than the middle 50% for the incoming class of 2021.

Consequently, I have been advising my students to only submit scores if they are within or above the middle 50% score range for 2021.  For students who are applying to a university’s business or engineering school (both of which are typically harder to get into than a college of arts and sciences), I have tried to find the middle 50% of scores for students admitted to those particular schools.  For example, the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) published middle 50% ranges for the university as a whole, as well as for each of its undergraduate schools/colleges.  (To see this data, scroll down to Admitted Student Averages.) The score ranges listed are for the incoming class of 2020, so they don’t reflect the test-optional effect for the incoming class of 2021.

I have two students whose ACT scores were 29 and who were both applying to CU’s business school.  The middle 50% of ACT scores for students admitted to the business school in 2020 was 30-33.  Both students have very strong transcripts, so rather than submitting a score that was just below the middle 50%, I recommended they not to submit their scores and let their transcripts stand on their own.

The beauty of test-optional admissions is that students are given the freedom to decide if their scores adequately represent their ability/potential.  That said, in making that decision, it’s important to consider the available data.