Optional Test Submission: A Marketing Ploy or a Strategic Advantage?

Written by Nell McCormack Abom, Host Smart Talk TV | Nov 20, 2009 8:47 PM

That said, I continue to be encouraged by the number of colleges that are making the submission of tests optional for some or all of their applicants. In effect, they are acknowledging, “We can make good decisions about whom to admit without test results.” According to Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director for, the number now stands at nearly 850 colleges and universities. His website lists each of these schools in alphabetical order.

When I made reference to the test optional opportunity that exists at a growing number of schools during a presentation earlier this week, a parent asked, somewhat incredulously, “Won’t colleges assume that if you don’t submit scores that you are trying to hide low results?”

Good question. In fact, I have heard the assertion that the test optional schools are simply using the option as a marketing ploy to attract applicants and raise their scores (because low scores are no longer reported). While those might be natural outcomes for such schools, it is my experience that the rationale for going test optional runs much deeper. Many schools with test requirements feel obligated to admit students whose test results match their respective testing profiles. In the process, they tend to arbitrarily dismiss candidates who are otherwise very compelling but whose scores would “hurt the profile.”

The removal of the testing requirement frees admission officers to focus their deliberations on the personal strengths and attributes of the student without concern for how a score might affect their academic profiles. The day that my school (Franklin & Marshall College) went test optional in the admission process was like a day of liberation for my colleagues and me. Free from the “tyranny of numbers,” we were able to admit the students who were most interesting to us.

Did we admit kids who benefited by not having to submit substandard scores? Sure—and they did very well in college and in life after school. Similarly, we admitted more than a few students over the years who submitted high scores, but relatively modest high school records, who did not find the same success.

The bottom line is this: if testing is not your thing or you are philosophically opposed to its place in the admission process, you should feel more than comfortable exploring the 850 colleges and universities that have made the submission of tests optional. They have defined a different paradigm for decision-making that, quite frankly, is student-centered. And that’s a good thing!

Peter Van Buskirk is an author, consultant, speaker and creator of the Best College Fit™ Resources. Visit to learn more about Peter and his student-centered approach to college planning.

Published in Life After 12th Grade

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