Students often ask: should I submit my test scores? Unless they got a perfect score, the answer is almost always, “It depends.” Yes, it’s an annoying response during the confounding application process. With such a large investment of time, money, and energy on the line, parents and students naturally crave answers and clarity. 

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But each day, a dizzying amount of new information emanates from college admissions departments coast to coast. Inundated with a dramatic uptick in the volume of submissions since test-score optional policies became the default around the pandemic, colleges are constantly tinkering with their admissions processes and policies

In the current college application season, just 4% of Common App member schools required test scores, down from 55% in 2019-20. But in recent months, several high-profile institutions, including Yale, Dartmouth, and MIT, have re-instated test score requirements. Other colleges have changed how they value test scores compared with other components of student applications. 

To increase their odds of acceptance, students should consider whether to submit scores on each application on an up-to-the-minutecase-by-case basis. Applicants should closely review stated test score policies for each school they apply to. If a college’s test policy on its website indicates a slight preference for testing, they should consider submitting scores. If a student’s test scores are at or above a college’s 50% benchmark for test scores, it is likely a good strategy to submit. 

Lastly, students with relatively higher test scores than most others in their immediate environment should consider submitting, even if it is below a college’s 50% benchmark. Admissions departments are very savvy and know that not all test scores are created equally; students from under-resourced communities who earn good scores often do so without the benefits of test prep, college coaches, and strong college prep classes in their high schools, so their scores will be valued on a curve. 

While only half of my college coaching students  elected to submit their test scores in the most recent cycle, I anticipate more will submit scores in the seasons to come. I also advise ALL students to at least take the tests and see what they get. Why? Because taking the tests can’t hurt you, and even at test-optional institutions, having strong scores can put competitive candidates over the top and increase their odds of acceptance.

If students are shy of the average required score, even a couple of digital practice tests and SAT/ACT tutoring sessions can sometimes help them level up to reach the target threshold. Furthermore, good test scores can qualify students for merit aid that they would not otherwise receive. Lastly, some colleges require test scores from all transfer students. Better to have the short-term irritation of taking the test now and the long-term benefit of having it done and out of the way. 

Choice can be overwhelming, but it becomes less daunting when approached with a clear strategy. These days, testing is a low-risk endeavor; it’s largely optional, and in such cases it can only enhance an applicant’s profile. Plus, test prep is a great training ground for student agency and the growth mindset. If they choose, students can study, practice, and retake the tests. They can also decide not to submit their scores later if they are displeased with their results. Knowing they can always apply without test scores later may also help students manage test anxiety. 

Regardless of their path, students must navigate the nuanced landscape of test submissions with a thoughtful and realistic mindset. In a realm where choices abound, informed decisions become the key to unlocking future opportunities.