Saint Joseph's University

Test Optional: What Does It Mean?

You’re sitting there in nervous anticipation. You can feel the beads of sweat begin to form on your forehead as the smell of freshly sharpened number two pencils permeates the air. You’ve been to prep courses, taken practice tests and worked with every tutor imaginable. You slowly clench your teeth as you await the proctor’s instruction to “begin.” If this is you, you’re probably about to take the SAT or ACT!

Applying to college can be very stressful. You try your hardest to do your homework, study for your exams, participate in various extracurricular activities, and volunteer at local charities but you feel like a three-hour test may be your downfall. Just the mere thought of taking the SAT or ACT gives you anxiety and for some reason, when you see the words on the test booklet page you freeze. You know you’re not good at taking exams, you just wish that the college of your dreams knew it too.

This is why some colleges and universities, including Saint Joseph’s, have become test optional. We evaluate students holistically, whether they choose to submit their test scores or not. Many institutions realize that a three-hour test should not be the most important factor in admission decisions. These institutions also realize that these exams can also be biased and may not reflect a student’s ability to succeed in higher education.

Test optional means different things at different colleges and universities. This is why it is important to do your research, so you are aware of each institution’s policy. Some schools may require you to do something in place of submitting your test scores, like writing an additional essay or coming in for an interview, while others just give your other materials (high school transcript, course rigor, essay, etc.) more weight in the decision. At Saint Joseph’s we don’t require you to do anything extra. We evaluate test optional students holistically using their grades, rigor, essay and letter(s) of recommendation as guides for students’ admission decisions.

The best thing you can do if you’re unsure if you should submit your test scores is look at the institution’s middle 50%, with 25% of admitted students being above these averages and 25% of students falling below. This is a data point reflecting the test scores of students who have been admitted in recent years. This information can usually be found on the institution’s website or in brochures. If you fall significantly below the lower number, you should strongly consider applying test optional. In all things, make sure you speak with your guidance/college counselor, parent(s), or someone you trust before making a final decision.

For more information on test optional colleges and universities, please visit www.fairtest.org.

–James Jackson, Assistant Director