When applying to multiple US colleges simultaneously, it is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of their individual and overlapping requirements. The application and accompanying documents must align with the student’s chosen degree program, the geographic location of the desired institutions, and other relevant factors.
To avoid any obstacles later in the process, it is best to research this information before beginning the application itself so that no deadlines are missed. This confusion between requirements while remaining mindful of deadlines is especially necessary when we consider the inclusion of standardized tests. These tests are a useful barometer for admission officers and their institutions when judging and comparing the competency of an applicant. However, not every institution gives these tests the same weight, which is why we may see one of the three options in an application’s requirements: Test Blind, Test Optional, and Compulsory Tests.
In contrast to prevailing assumptions regarding college applications, it is important to note that not all institutions mandate submission of standardized test scores, and applications that are categorized as “Test-Blind” will disregard scores even if they are furnished by applicants.
Although this has been a requirement for many universities even prior, the recent pandemic made this all the more common as many students all over the world did not have access to such assessments. However, even as the impact of the pandemic subsides, many institutions have confronted the plethora of other reasons that still keep students from sitting for such tests, thus they have decided to do away with them completely.
In a Test-Blind application, the student will be academically assessed based on their performance in school, as well as any extra academic responsibilities or activities they may have availed of their own volition.
Some Test-Blind Universities include:
- University of California system
- City University of New York system
- California State University system
- Pennsylvania College of Art & Design
- Loyola University New Orleans
Test-Optional applications are similar to the Test-Blind applications in the way that they both believe there are other aspects of a student’s application that are considered a better predictor of their abilities, than a standardized test. However, while the former does not give any room for flexibility, Test-Optional applications do allow their students to share any SAT, ACT, IELTS, TOEFL, or other results if they want to, without any penalty for choosing otherwise.
Once again, this system of assessment predates COVID-19 but the application cycles that persisted through the pandemic had to adapt their requirements at the time. Many schools decided to become Test-Optional only for the duration of the pandemic itself while others, such as Penn State University, have decided to remain this way even after the restrictions are lifted worldwide.
In a Test-Optional application, a student’s high school academic performance is given the most importance, along with then the personal essay, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities and any supplementary questions. While not mandatory, this is a good opportunity to avail for any student that may not feel as confident in their high school academic performance alone, or may believe that their application could benefit from additional materials.
Some Test-Optional Universities include:
- Columbia University
- Skidmore College
- Emerson College
- University of Rochester
- Pace University
Despite the recent shift in the application process, there are certain institutions that still do require compulsory tests as a part of an admissions process. Standardized tests are especially helpful for universities that cater to a large international demographic of students, all of which come from a variety of educational backgrounds. The wealth of different educational systems – such as International Baccalaureate, CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE, and more – makes it difficult to compare different candidates, thereby establishing the necessity of a standardized test.
Universities that require tests may do so based on a number of factors. Some universities may only expect their international students to sit for standardized tests while domestic applicants may have the ability to waive the requirement. This is especially common as a language requirement where international students may be asked to submit an SAT, TOEFL, or even Duolingo to verify their English proficiency. Similarly, some tests are specific to a degree a candidate may be pursuing, such as the LNAT for the UK Law applicants. It is therefore extremely important for students to browse the program-specific website for each university to ensure they are applying in direct accordance to their own program.
Some Compulsory-Test Universities:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Georgetown University (DC)
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- University of Colorado Denver
- Washington State University
As the college application process evolves to meet the evolving demands and diversity of the world, it is incumbent upon us to approach each application cycle armed with current and program-specific information to preclude any obstacles that may arise in the future. Consequently, in selecting colleges and universities, applicants should refer to the program-specific page on the institution’s website to obtain comprehensive information prior to commencing the application process.It is also worth noting that not all universities approach the idea of optional tests and flexibility the same way. As mentioned earlier, some test-optional universities will still require test scores for specific majors, or for international students only. Some programs might even substitute the test requirement with an opportunity for other additional materials such as extra letters of recommendation or a portfolio. Similarly, some universities might not require a test score at all but will allow you the opportunity to provide one, to be considered for a merit-based scholarship as opposed to the admission alone.
Each of the components in an application serve a particular purpose and are given different degrees of importance when considering an admission. Students can decide what narrative thread they would like to lend to their application but it must be one that is born out of informed decisions and responds directly to the requirements of the major and school they are pursuing.