Here’s How 4 Admissions Officers Feel About Test Scores

“My colleague would say they never go down the corridor to another colleague and say, ‘Look at this perfect test score,'” says American University admissions director, Jesse Tomczak. As SAT test centers close around the country, we’re left wondering if our students will ever take the SAT or ACT. Can we just give up on testing altogether? But what will colleges think?

For test optional colleges, I see too many parents and counselors desperately scouring admissions websites for any hints on how, truly, test scores affect admissions — to no avail.

Websites are for PR, not for insider info.

Here’s what four admissions officers think when they see — and don’t see — applicant test scores.

  • A Carleton admissions officer: Test scores represent how well a student did on a test on one day, not their readiness for college
  • A low test score can cause disagreements between application readers, says University of Lynchburg admissions officer
  • A Whitman admissions officer explains: Test optional means every other part of the application becomes a bigger factor

Admissions officers may not think test scores predict college preparedness

Our dean of admissions asked us, “What did you guys think about the applications that had no test scores?” For the people who responded to that question, we didn’t even notice if your test scores weren’t there. It’s not even something that I’ll notice, and I won’t take it into account.

When the test is present, I’ll look at it, but I won’t look at it in terms of, “Okay, this student is ready for Carleton.” I’ll look and be like, “Okay, this student did well on this test on this day.” If a student didn’t do well, I won’t fault them for that generally, because you’re sitting in this room for four hours surrounded by people, no talking, with just a pen or pen or pencil in your hand looking at a paper. That’s a very stressful thing, and it’s not an environment that brings out the best in students. When we say we’re test-optional, if you don’t submit your test scores, it’s not going to hurt your application in any way. It’s not going to make a difference, really.

— Alex Cardenas, admissions officer at Carleton College

This is the best news for students whose test centers closed or who simply don’t want to take a boring 4-hour standardized test (a valid decision).

At Carleton, a college that focuses primarily on undergraduate teaching in small classes, admissions officers don’t take test scores seriously. Firstly, a high score might be seen as just a lucky result after a one-time test. A poor score or no score isn’t noticed.

But this isn’t always the case at all schools.

A low test score can cause contention in the admissions reading room

The one time that [two readers disagreed] was more the other person wanting further requirements, like higher test scores or a higher grade in the class throughout their current semester.

— Riley Harris, admissions officer at University of Lynchburg

Generally, college applications are reviewed by more than one person. If a student submits a low test score, she’s gambling.

One reader might ignore it and believe the applicant is ready for college anyway, thanks to the amazing essays and extracurricular contributions.

But another reader might see it as a bar to entry and fight against this applicant.

In this situation, applicants should only submit low test scores if they have an appetite for risk, or don’t particularly care to get into the particular college.

In this situation, a “low” test score would be considered low for both the university’s middle 50% of admits and the applicant’s local area. Admissions offices use this data to compare.

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