Girl questioning whether to take the tests or not

To Test or Not to Test

During the past year, several colleges and universities have returned to requiring standardized test scores as part of the criteria they consider for admission. Yale University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, and University of Tennessee are just some of the institutions now requiring students to submit scores. While perspectives on this decision vary, the fact of the matter is that students in the class of 2025 are faced with a decision — to test or not to test.

Before jumping to a conclusion, it may help students and families to better understand the role testing plays in admissions decision-making. Even for the majority of institutions that require testing, the score on its own is not the determinant factor for admissions. A test score is not evaluated in a vacuum; it is one piece of an applicant’s file and is evaluated within the context of their entire application, their high school’s profile, and the college’s institutional priorities. While many high school students have received guidance to only submit scores if they are somewhere within the middle 50% range of the previous year’s enrolled applicants, this advice is misleading. There’s much more to consider:

  • Do the scores support the student’s performance on their transcript?
  • Are the scores above average for the student’s particular high school or district?
  • Are the average scores of admitted students inflated because of test-optional policies (which drive up the middle 50% range year after year)?
  • Does the institution the student is applying to accept a significant number of students whose scores fall outside the middle 50% range (and within the applicant’s range)?
  • Does a strength in a portion of their test align well with the major they intend to pursue (or not)?
  • Is there something in the student’s profile that makes them a strong candidate for admission despite their score?
  • Is the student putting themselves at a disadvantage by not applying to a test-required school that might have otherwise been a strong fit?

Some institutions have stated that one of the reasons they have decided to reinstate the testing requirement is because qualified and desirable candidates are choosing not to apply or making decisions about whether to submit their scores based on misinformation.

When working with clients, my objective is to help them make decisions based on their individual goals and interests, and within the context of their entire application. Many universities have not yet made a final determination on whether they will require tests for the Class of 2025. During Lee Coffin’s podcast, Admissions Beat, aired on October 31, 2023, Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Jeremiah Quinlan, advised high school juniors to plan to take the SAT or ACT. In a conversation with Clemson University’s admissions office last week, I asked for their guidance on the topic. They stated they have not yet made a determination on testing, but echoed the same advice. While many colleges and universities have yet to announce testing requirements for the upcoming application cycle, taking the test puts applicants in the driver’s seat and gives them more information, flexibility, and control in their process. Simply put, if you choose not to test, you will, by default, eliminate the option to apply to a school within the growing list of institutions that require testing. If you choose to test, you have a data point and can then make an informed decision as to what your next step will be — Do you want to submit your score? Do you want to prep and test again? Do you want to apply only to test-optional schools? The decision is yours.

There are times when a student I’m working with indicates that the idea of standardized testing elicits such stress that they would rather apply to only test-optional schools. Sometimes these feelings are based on anxiety, fear of the unknown, or the belief that they are a poor test taker.  In those instances, we will discuss their feelings and determine the best course of action within the context of their interests. There are instances where testing doesn’t make sense. For those students, fortunately there are a variety of institutions they can apply to that are, and for the foreseeable future will be, test optional. For those who are eager to apply to a school that requires testing or has not yet announced their decision, it’s often best to plan to test, consider options for test prep, take a test, obtain a data point, and determine their next step by understanding what their score means in the context of their profile and interests. Perhaps by better understanding the role their score plays in their overall application, and making an informed decision, a student’s anxiety will be relieved, and their options broadened.

To learn more about testing and other factors that influence your student’s candidacy, please contact

Rebecca St. Mary is a college consultant at JBG Educational Group and Counseling Alliance

Sampling of test-required universities for the 2024-2025 application cycle:

Auburn University *                                      MIT

Brown University                                           Purdue University

Dartmouth College                                      United States Air Force Academy

Florida Atlantic University                           United States Naval Academy

Florida International University                 University of Central Florida

Florida Tech                                                   University of Florida

Florida State University                               University of Georgia

Georgetown University                               University of South Florida

Georgia Tech                                                University of Tennessee

Louisiana Tech                                             Yale University

*Test-preferred (required for applicants below 3.6 GPA)

By Rebecca St. Mary