Applying to Colleges With Test-Optional Admissions?


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An iconic year, even by the standards of its iconic decade, 1969 teems with momentous events in America's cultural history: the moon landing, Woodstock, the Amazin' Mets, and the start of American withdrawal from Vietnam. That same year, events quieter, although within the narrower scope of college admissions history, of no less magnitude, unfolded in the small, coastal town of Brunswick, Maine. There, the newly-minted, fresh-faced Dean of Bowdoin College, Roger Howell Jr., all of 33 years old, made a bold decision—he would eliminate the SAT as an admissions requirement for his school.

Howell explained in his inaugural address that he preferred that Bowdoin focus on the "human quality of its students" in the admissions process. It was a concept that very much fit the spirit of the times. Yet unlike other 1969 debuts such as Sesame Street, the ATM, and the Abby Road album, test-optional admissions was not a trend that swept the nation like wildfire. 

In fact, the second domino's much-delayed drop took place in 1984 when Bowdoin's fellow-Mainers, Bates College, jettisoned standardized test requirements. After Bates, things fell quiet for decades until all of the sudden in the mid-2000s when anti-SAT sentiment reawakened and quickly reached a fever pitch. 

Given its humble beginnings, it is fairly astounding that there are now 850 test-optional schools in the U.S., including highly-selective liberal arts institutions such as Wesleyan, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Dickinson, and Pitzer. There are also many elite schools that have become "test-flexible" such as Middlebury, Colby, Hamilton, and Trinity. Understanding the implications of these policies on your admissions and financial aid prospects is of the utmost importance. 

Why colleges go test-optional 

Institutions eliminating or de-emphasizing standardized tests often cite a lack of confidence in the SAT's and ACT's ability to predict college success and/or a desire to improve campus diversity (although a widely publicized College Transitions study shows that test-optional polices may not increase the enrollment of underrepresented students). 

Pure-intentioned or not, test-optional schools gain the benefit of not having to claim the SATs of their presumably lower-scoring students. Applicants who do not to submit scores typically have scores 100-150 points lower than those who elected to include scores in their application. Therefore, test-optional schools can boast artificially higher average SATs for admitted students which makes them appear more selective. 

Don't confuse test-optional and test-flexible 

There are a number of selective colleges, including Brandeis, Colby and New York University, that do not require the SAT or ACT, but still require applicants to submit results from one or more other exams, such as AP or IB exams and SAT subject tests. Before developing an admissions strategy, make sure that you are familiar with the exact testing requirements at each of your prospective colleges and that you learn whether the submission of test scores is truly optional. 

These policies are ever-evolving so it is important to stay on top of the most current policy information. For example, Bryn Mawr became test flexible in 2009 but switched to full-blown test-optional in 2014. 

There are also institutional variations of test-optional policies. Lewis & Clark requires test-optional applicants to submit a portfolio containing, among other things, an analytical writing sample as well as an example of scientific work. George Mason only allows standardized tests to be excluded from ones application if that individual has a minimum GPA of 3.5 and ranks in the top 20 percent of his or her high school class. 

Will test-optional benefit you?

It's not enough to simply compare your standardized test scores against those of the average incoming student. You should also take a serious look at other components of your application. Determine whether your grades, essays, and/or extracurricular record can truly distinguish you as an applicant and compel your prospective colleges to vote "yes." These application materials will be even more heavily scrutinized now that your admissions officers are without an essential piece of information, which although biased, can still provide for meaningful comparisons between you and the rest of the applicant pool. 

Impact on merit aid

Some test-optional colleges still award merit aid on the basis of standardized test scores, at least in part. If you're needy and/or cost-conscious, make sure you understand the financial implications of withholding your test scores. For example, Dickinson, Gettysburg, and Goucher are three selective test-optional schools that still require test scores for merit-based scholarships. We advise you to contact the admissions offices at each of your prospective test-optional colleges to determine whether merit aid is tied to standardized test performance, and if so, to what extent. 

The bottom line

Test-optional and Test-flexible policies allow institutions to accept sub-par standardized test takers who are otherwise strong applicants without hurting their institutional statistics. Skeptics will also point out that, in this system, colleges have a financial incentive to take on more students without financial need whose scores may not be up to snuff without any blow to their perception of selectivity. 

If you are individual who, for one reason or another, cannot achieve SAT/ACT scores that are commensurate with your ability as a student, then exploring the test-optional route makes good sense. However, unless you possess a blank check to cover your four years of study, due diligence on each test-optional/flexible school to which you apply is essential. 

College Transitions recently published a complete list of selective, test-optional colleges. Please click here to see which colleges have done away with standardized test requirements. 

College Transitions has also recently been featured in prominent news sources on articles covering the test-optional movement, including The Washington PostForbesThe Boston Globe and CBS News.

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Please visit our website—www.collegetransitions.com—to learn more.

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College Transitions

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About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

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June 2019

Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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This celebration of toys features interactive attractions, vendors, toy experiences and more. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $12/person. Free for ages 2 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Enjoy food, activities, music, and water sprayer fun for kids. Sixteen vendors will offer African clothing, jewelry, beauty products, voter registration, HIV/AIDS education and testing,...

Cost: Free

Where:
East End Community
Wake Forest, NC  27587


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p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 15.0px Calibri; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} Safely view the Sun through a solar telescope, hear about how...

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Learn more about our amazing star, the Sun. Safely view the Sun through a solar telescope, hear about how the Sun and other stars affect life on planets, and about current solar science...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
121 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Discover Historic Yates Mill - a place of business, community, and exciting local history! Watch a brief slideshow, then explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of water...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (6 - under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Enjoy ice cream made by the Children's House program and splash in the water table and kiddie pool.

Cost: Free

Where:
Nido: Coworking & Childcare
902 Broad St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Durham Refugee Day celebrates the contributions and cultures of our refugee and immigrant communities and provides an opportunity to stand in solidarity with these neighbors. This is a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Make colorful jellyfish with wiggly tentacles. Age 2-6 with caregiver. Register online. Choose course #125005.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Drop by the cybrary for storytime with a librarian. Activity Room 4. Preschool and kindergarten ages. No registration necessary. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Cybrary
100 N Greensboro St
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-918-7387
Contact Name: Cybrary
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 15.0px 'Times New Roman'; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none} p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 15.0px 'Times...

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Ages 11 and older with special needs sing favorite songs, karaoke-style. Register online. Choose course #125030.

Cost: $3/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
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See a fun mashup of classic fairytales. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Carrboro Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

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Sally Ride will take audiences on the ride of their life in this dynamic performance about space exploration. Through music, audience participation, and narrative, kids will see just how far...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Orange County Main Library
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Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
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Sally Ride will take audiences on the ride of their life in this dynamic performance about space exploration. Through music, audience participation, and narrative, kids will see just how far...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Orange County Main Library
Website »

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Meet a staff member at the information desk and follow your guide outside to the garden exhibit or into one of the museum galleries. Look around and listen to a history-related story. Ages 3...

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Kids ages 6-9 discover the different types of turtles that live at the Preserve.  The focus will be hands-on outdoor investigation and the study of living things in their habitat.  In...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Marti Kane
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Explore the ocean through books and trivia. Make your own travel-sized magnetic fishing game. Grades 3-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Ages 11 and older with special needs play bocce, cornhole, croquet and more on the lawn. Register online. Choose course #125353.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Page-Walker Arts & History Center
119 Ambassador Loop
Cary, NC  27511
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Website »

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Show More...
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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Walk through the Cretaceous period, the Jurassic Period and the Triassic period and experience what it was like to be among living dinosaurs. See life-size replicas of adult and baby dinosaurs, dig...

Cost: $22-$36

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Meet live owls and other raptors, learn the secrets about their lives in the wild. Grades K-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Website »

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Ages 4-10 enjoy an evening with hiking, crafts, music, games and s'mores. Register online. Choose course #124331.

Cost: $23/parent and child pair; $12 additional child

Where:
Bond Park, Kiwanis Shelter
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
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Join the TreeRunner staff at Raleigh for a magical night in the park. Dress as your favorite prince, princess, wizard or another fairy tale character and come climb in the trees. Take pictures with...

Cost: General Admission

Where:
TreeRunner Raleigh
12804 Norwood Rd
Raleigh, NC  27613
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Sponsor: N/A
Telephone: 919-410-7347

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Walk through the Cretaceous period, the Jurassic Period and the Triassic period and experience what it was like to be among living dinosaurs. See life-size replicas of adult and baby dinosaurs, dig...

Cost: $22-$36

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take your family for a fun day of making slime, playing with slime, watching live demos on how to make slime, buying slime from Instagram slime stars, and much more! Kids under 3 admitted free....

Cost: $20-$70

Where:
Kerr Scott Building of NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Website »

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Take part in the Carolina Hurricanes' Summerfest Celebration, headlined by an autograph session at 10 a.m., a State of the Hurricanes panel at 10:45 a.m. and the final practice of Prospect...

Cost: Free

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh , NC  27607
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Website »

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Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. Choose course #124952.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Please join us for the SouthEast Crab Feast event this summer in Raleigh, NC.  This event offers the Low Country Coastal Heritage of outdoor cooking of fresh seafood.  This highly...

Cost: $10-$30

Where:
Lake Wheeler Park
6404 Lake Wheeler Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: SouthEast Crab Feast Inc.
Telephone: 980-202-1142
Contact Name: Jamell Hamilton
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Search wetlands and forests for birds. Ages 13-15. Register online. Choose course #124934.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Hemlock Bluffs/Stevens Nature Center
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (ages 6-under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Take the family for a day of fun, free food, live music, kids activities, giveaways, and motorcycle shows. There will be an onsite food pantry, job fair, health screening, clothing distribution,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Launch Ministries
3013 Barrow Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27616
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Telephone: (919) 225-1020
Contact Name: Yolanda Morgan
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