Understanding Test-Optional College Admissions

Before developing an admissions strategy, your student should familiar himself or herself with testing requirements at prospective colleges.


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Rarely does a week pass without another well-known college or university making headlines by announcing that it will no longer require applicants to submit standardized test scores. This movement, known as going “test-optional,” actually began almost 50 years ago at Bowdoin College and has rapidly gained momentum over the last decade. In the last couple of years, schools such as George Washington University, James Madison University, Emerson College, and the University of Delaware have joined the more than 950 test-optional schools in the U.S.

Colleges, especially those of the highly selective variety, are looking for compelling reasons to accept your student as an applicant. Generally, colleges like having more information, not less.

With this in mind, if your student is not planning to submit SAT or ACT scores to a prospective college, he or she should ask himself or herself, “What other components of my application stand out — grades, essays and/or extracurriculars?” These application materials will be even more heavily scrutinized now that the admissions officers don’t have standardized test scores, which can still provide for meaningful comparisons between your student and the rest of the applicant pool.

Test-Optional vs. Test-Flexible

A number of selective colleges, including the University of Rochester, Colby College and New York University, do not require submission of SAT or ACT scores, but still require applicants to submit results from one or more other exams, such as SAT subject tests, or advanced placement or international baccalaureate exams. Before developing an admissions strategy, your student should familiar himself or herself with testing requirements at prospective colleges and 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.

There are also institutional variations of test-optional policies. Lewis & Clark College in Oregon requires test-optional applicants to submit a portfolio containing, among other things, an analytical writing sample and an example of scientific work. George Mason University only allows standardized tests to be excluded from one’s application if that individual has a minimum GPA of 3.5, ranks in the top 20 percent of his or her high school class, and is entering a program other than engineering or information technology. Brandeis University offers students three options: Submit the SAT/ACT score, three SAT subject test scores of their choice, or a writing sample and an extra letter of recommendation.

Test-Optional Impact on Merit Aid

If your student needs financial assistance with tuition, or if you are paying and want to take a cost-conscious approach, make sure you both understand the potential financial implications of withholding your student’s test scores. The vast majority of test-optional colleges state on their website something to the effect of: “Students who do not submit SAT/ACT scores will still be considered for merit scholarships.” Yet, it’s hard to know if they are on equal footing with score-submitters, or if they merely are not eliminated from consideration. Other schools are clearer about this. Providence College, for example, states: “Students who choose not to submit SAT or ACT scores will still receive full consideration for admission and merit scholarships” — “full” being the operative word. Hofstra University explains that consideration for merit awards is automatic for all students, but only those who submit scores are eligible for the scholarships that offer top monetary awards.

In the absence of real data on the subject, it’s hard to draw any conclusions, but it is fair to state that not submitting standardized test data may put your student at a disadvantage — for at least some merit-based scholarships.

The Bottom Line

If your student is, for one reason or another, unable to achieve SAT/ACT scores that are commensurate with his or her academic ability, explore the test-optional route. However, unless you possess a blank check to cover your student’s four years of study, due diligence on each test-optional/flexible school to which you apply is essential.


Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also a co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at collegetransitions.com.

 

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College Transitions

Expert advice for finding the right fit


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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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October 2019

Since the 1850s, North Carolina farmers have been going to the State Fair to learn about ways to improve their farming practices. Discover the origins of the State Fair and the history behind some...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

This festival has something for the fastest runners and families alike. Start and finish at Diamond View Park at the American Tobacco Campus and choose from the Half Marathon, Five Miler or 1 Mile...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Southpoint Mall and American Tobacco Trail
6910 Fayeteville Rd
Durham, NC  27713
View map »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy a meet-and-greet with the team and interactive games following practice. Doors open at 11:45 a.m. Starting at noon, fans will be able to welcome and meet the team before watching the NC State...

Cost: Free

Where:
Carmichael Gymnasium
2611 Cates Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27695
View map »

More information

Performers in Mallarmé's first Family Series Concert, “JAZZ IS CHAMBER MUSIC, TOO!” will include faculty and students from the NCCU Jazz Department...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kirby Horton Hall, Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mallarme Chamber Players
Telephone: 919-560-2788
Contact Name: Mickaella Guarascio
Website »

More information

Celebrate the 20th anniversary of Triangle Beagle Rescue with barbecue, cake, ice cream, vendors, raffles and a doggie costume contest.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Compass Rose Brewery
3201 Northside Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Website »

More information

Snakes, spiders, bugs, and beetles! Most people either love them or hate these "scary" critters. Prepare to face your fears by exploring these animals and the important roles they play in their...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

The Durham Medical Orchestra will perform a benefit concert for the Miracle League of the Triangle, including children and adults with special needs. Special guest is Wool E. Bull of the Durham...

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park Pavilion
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online. 

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

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

One dark fall night, Mouse creeps out and hears strange sounds and sees spooky sights. What could it mean? Don't worry, Mouse—it's Halloween! Join us for a fun yet spooky tale by Lauren Thompson...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join a naturalist for a re-energizing walk in the forest. This is a hike to immerse ourselves in nature. We will stop and talk about plants when it is interesting for the group. Note that, as a...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

There is more to the “ring-tailed bandit” than meets the eye! Discover the mysteries behind this animal, including what their favorite foods are and their unique adaptations. Make a mask of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Did you know young raccoons are called kits? Learn all about these ring-tailed mammals through hands-on discovery, stories, and a fun craft! Then learn how to walk like a raccoon and search for the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Assist with our habitat box monitoring. Tasks will vary depending on what needs attention and may include: cleaning or repairing habitat boxes or installing new ones, monitoring our current...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Trick or Treat in Downtown is a Free annual Halloween event sponsored by Fuquay-Varina Downtown Association and participating Downtown Businesses. Held from 2-5pm, families are invited to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Fuquay-Varina
Fuquay-Varina, NC  27526


Sponsor: Fuquay-Varina Downtown Association
Telephone: 919-552-0848
Contact Name: Rachel Cornett
Website »

More information

Celebrate the fall season at the Garden with a fun-filled evening of hands-on nature activities! Meet green monsters, craft a magic wand and leaf critter, tackle the spider web obstacle course,...

Cost: $5 per person; children 2 & under FREE

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
Website »

More information

Just as you are getting sleepy and letting go of a yawn, many of the wetland’s inhabitants are stretching and getting ready for their “day.” We’ll learn which animals in the wetland are...

Cost: $5 per family

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Conjure up your best disguise* and show off your Halloween threads as you compete in our costume contest, then march over to the Makery to decorate a trick-or-treat bag for the big night. Summon...

Cost: $35

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Drive
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Contact Name: Sabrina Varney
Website »

More information

This event is very popular, and spots fill up fast so make sure to reserve your spot in advance.  In the heart of a zombie apocalypse at TreeRunner, the park has been quarantined as a large...

Cost: Adults & Kids Over 14 years of age:$44; Kids 13 and under: $39

Where:
TreeRunner Raleigh
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Telephone: 919-410-7347
Contact Name: TreeRunner
Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

For years, scientists have worked to understand the changes that occur in trees and other plants during autumn. Although many details remain unclear, we do know enough to explain the basics of...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

More information

Families explore different school and calendar options in the Wake County Public School System.

Cost: Free

Where:
Panther Creek High School
6770 McCrimmon Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

More information

Pittsboro comes alive with arts and crafts vendors, food trucks and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Pittsboro
, NC  27312


Website »

More information

The local community is invited to the CORRAL Riding Academy’s CORRAL Classic to celebrate the young women of CORRAL as they give riding demonstrations, meet CORRAL’s horses and goats at...

Cost: Free

Where:
CORRAL Riding Academy
3620 Kildaire Farm Rd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: CORRAL Riding Academy
Telephone: 919.355.2090
Contact Name: Abby Shea
Website »

More information

Food trucks, a kids costume contest, arts and crafts vendors and more light up Main Street in Rolesville.

Cost: Free

Where:
Main Street
Rolesville, NC  27571


Website »

More information

Live entertainment, a kids' zone, corn hole competition, food trucks, and arts and crafts vendors highlight this annual festival in Holly Springs.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Sugg Farm at Bass Lake Park
2401 Grigsby Ave.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Website »

More information

Calling all walkers, runners and anyone who wants to have fun at the beautiful Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh and help us celebrate 40 years of prevention. Join the staff of PCANC and the triangle...

Cost: $30 Individual/$70 for Families

Where:
Dorothea Dix Park
2105 Umstead Dr
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are provided,...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


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 & 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history...

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

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675

More information

Come in costume for Halloween family fun at the 𝗧𝗿𝗶𝗰𝗸 𝗼𝗿 𝗧𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗺𝗮𝗹𝗹 𝗦𝗮𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗱𝗮𝘆,...

Cost: Free Admission

Where:
Triangle Town Center
5959 Triangle Blvd
#206
Raleigh, NC  27616
View map »

More information

Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are provided,...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Man's best friend is featured in a family-friendly event that includes dog shows, a canine costume contest, parade, photo booth and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Put on your fastest shoes and your race face for some fun, frightening fitness in a 3.1-mile run, Enjoy live music and seasonal food and drinks at the Farmhouse Café. Costumes not...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wendell Falls
320 Vintage Point Lane
Wendell, NC  27591
View map »


Sponsor: Wendell Falls
Telephone: 919-437-4043
Contact Name: Cherith Andes
Website »

More information

Meet the farm's horses and enjoy games, crafts, treats, music, a haunted trail for teens and more. All proceeds benefit Horse and Buddy Therapeutic Riding Program, a local equine...

Cost: $10/person. Free for ages 9 and younger

Where:
Horse and Buddy Therapeutic Riding Program
4728 Old U.S. Hwy. 1
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Website »

More information

Search wetlands and forests for birds. Ages 13-15. Register online. 

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

East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

More information

The Annual Raleigh Zombie Walk will be calling the living dead once again this year. The Zombie herd will gather for the 13th Annual Zombie Walk, invading the streets of downtown Raleigh. You can...

Cost: Free

Where:
Nash Square Park
200 S. McDowell St
Raleigh , NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the Lexington BBQ Festival. Board at any of these stops: Charlotte, Kannapolis, Salisbury, High Point, Greensboro,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

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Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.