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Conquering College Applications at Test-optional Schools - image of student taking a standardized test.

Have you been thinking about college applications? I’m guessing no, Nebraska high school juniors are more focused on the upcoming state-wide ACT date. You could be thinking you need a good score to get into college. What if I told you that your score didn’t matter? This fall, more than 2,000 colleges will be classified as test-optional, including many Nebraska colleges and universities. Here is what that means for you.

Don’t Forget About Financial Aid

If the ACT/SAT tests are not required for admissions, is there any point in taking the tests? YES!!! Test scores don’t play a role in federal financial aid, but many academic scholarships use them to decide which students to award. This includes academic scholarships provided by the colleges and universities. Focus on getting the best score possible to ease the cost of college.

Research is Key

While the ACT or SAT may not be required, some colleges still give you the ability to submit your scores. Getting a good score and adding it to your application can help facilitate the awarding of academic scholarships. It also could be requested because the schools use holistic admissions processes. Holistic admissions mean the school isn’t considering applicants based on a set of minimum requirements but instead considers all aspects of the student to determine who to admit. In these cases, giving your test score can help showcase your knowledge and talents. Research each school’s specific policy and application requirements using our College Profiles tool.

Sharpen Your Academic Focus

Since test scores won’t be a factor, your GPA takes center stage. If your GPA isn’t where you’d like it to be, talk to your teachers about ramping up your coursework or seeking academic support. Did you take advantage of your school’s rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs? Highlight those scores – they showcase your academic prowess even better than standardized tests. Colleges look for consistency in your academic performance; if you are later in your high school career, then focus on showing growth in your ability as a student.

Unleash Your Essay

The application essay is your opportunity to paint a vivid picture of who you are. Don’t get bogged down in generic “why this college?” essays. Admission reps read thousands of those “Why I want to be a Husker” essays. Instead, channel your inner storyteller and share a unique experience, a passion project, or a personal challenge that shaped you. Consider what type of student attends the college and show how you match that type.

Shine a Light on Your Activities

Colleges want students who will contribute to campus communities. It’s more than just being a good student; they look for good people. Did you volunteer at a local food bank, showing your commitment to helping others? Were you part of a debate team demonstrating your communication skills? Maybe you participated in a science fair showcasing your intellectual curiosity.  Highlight all your extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and awards. They showcase your well-roundedness and potential to be a valuable addition to the student body. A good way to do this is to use our Activities Resume tool. You can keep track of all your activities and export it to upload to your application.

Test-optional colleges change the way they admit students, but that does not mean you are at a disadvantage. Consider it an opportunity to be defined as more than just a number. Use this information and the EducationQuest tools to simplify the process and land that acceptance letter. We are always here to help you throughout the admissions and financial aid process. Never hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.

By Jason Combs