To Test or Not to Test? Here is our answer: TEST! If you are from a zip code where the admissions office knows that your high school offers testing and testing is an actual topic of conversation on the sidelines and at the dinner table, your student should study for and take the SAT/ ACT. And I will repeat that, STUDY FOR, and take the SAT/ACT. And, they should be able to hit a score that is in line with their overall academic performance in high school. A limited number of students really do not test well. That means, regardless of excellent preparation and study, they simply do not do well in a high-stakes environment.
Over the past several years, the test-optional movement has created a few secondary movements. One, is that of students applying way above their selectivity in the college application process. An overall view of “Why Not?” and “If I don’t try, I’ll never know.” Let’s have a bit of a reality check here. Did you utilize the free testing resources like Khan Academy and did you study hard for the test and understand the material on which you would be tested? If that is a YES and you do not score well, you have not mastered the subject matter and you should not apply to certain schools- period.
If you cannot score at least 700 on MATH on your SAT, should you really apply to MIT? I think not. And MIT agrees as they reinstated mandatory testing for this application year. Algebra II is the majority of the math content. If you cannot grasp that, please do not try to tackle integrative equations or quantum physics at one of the world’s most elite institutions. Yes, parents across the country have very bright students that do well in high school and are over-involved in activities, and are otherwise spectacular in the eyes of their parents and peers. But let’s put this in perspective. Just looking at the Ivy League. Considering only the valedictorian at each high school, there would not be enough space at these schools to enroll those students. Your amazing student may look average when among those who have been pushing for the Ivies most of their lives and many of whom are legacy students. Of course, there are always outliers, but let’s talk about the majority here because this is not Vegas.
When you are thinking of applying to schools, really look at the school, its past admitted classes, what its strengths are for your interests. Think socially and academically. Do you really want to attend with the other competitive students who have been eyeing that coveted spot? Will you thrive in this consistently competitive environment? Maybe? Maybe not. It is about FIT, not purchasing a lottery ticket for your student who may have a 4.6 at the local high school and does not have to reveal their 1100 or even 1350 SAT score in order to reach for Dartmouth. Let’s say, by sheer luck of the draw (which can often be at highly-selective universities), they get in. Will your child thrive there? And are you willing to pony up the $70k tuition? No one gets a scholarship for being smart at Princeton. They are all smart at Princeton.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about future success metrics being not where you go, but rather the relative position of where you graduate amongst your peers. It is often better to be at the top of any pile. His talk, WHY I SAID YES TO SPEAK HERE is on our New Client Watch List for good reason. Watch Here. (Our YouTube handle @getintocollege). And test scores matter. Some schools have been test-optional for quite some time, think the University of Chicago, a highly selective university that boasts a 7% admissions rate and has been test-optional since 2018. Their average test score for the SAT is 1535- missing only a few questions. See their admitted class of 2026 . Even though they are, and have been test-optional, only 10-15% of students did not submit scores. Read that again. The students who get in work hard and have that “thing” that makes U Chicago the right school for them. They know it. They are excited by the eclectic supplemental essay questions and the admissions office sees that too. And- most of them show test scores, have 5s on AP exams and have effected change on a regional/national/international level.
A second “movement” that has come from the test-optional situation is inflated scores overall. Since you do not have to send scores to many schools (that changed their policy during covid and have not switched back), now only the highest of scores are submitted. This makes the average SAT /ACT artificially inflated and the middle 50% much higher than in years past. Add this to loads of grade inflation that happened while students were online “learning” but not really learning, and we have an unprepared, over-hyped GPA-driven culture that truly believes their student would thrive at a highly selective university. Level set your expectations. Look at the transcript of your student, the classes they have taken and the grades they have received. Then, compile a college list of where they will thrive and not simply survive.
Inflated GPAs and the option to simply not test, not study for the test, and not submit scores, have really messed up admissions. In the article below by the Hechinger Report, you will learn a bit about the movement from the perspective of the admissions office. Inflation has driven the number of applications at the nation’s top-ranked or rather “bumper sticker-recognized” schools and lowered the number of applications at lesser-known colleges and universities. Add the Common App to the mix, and now kids can simply apply to as many schools as they want to, as long as they write the supplemental essays. We have created a sticky wicket. So, now you know where I stand.
If you want to apply to a highly selective university, let’s talk about why and where and our team will do our best to help you differentiate yourself and put your best foot forward. If you have the curriculum, the grades, the test scores, the leadership, and the ability to write well, we can dig deeper and find the best highly-selective schools to put on your list. Regardless, want you to shy away from ONLY applying to only the Top 25 schools. Look at Colleges That Change Lives, a book that all of our juniors receive from us. Look at schools where you will get what YOU need in order to have the best outcomes whether that be grad school or a job. Believe me, we are always looking to have a balanced list for all of our students. A decision of NO does not feel good. Ever. Been there. Done that.
Our students test, have a plan for testing and preparing, take rigorous classes, have good grades, and present themselves in the best possible way. And they do this at schools that are the right FIT for them academically, geographically, socially, and financially. College applications and acceptances are a business. Let’s run the numbers and increase your odds.