Do Test Scores Give an Admissions Advantage?

In a test optional world, test scores continue to matter for selective colleges and universities across the country. But how much do scores matter? What is the relative advantage if a student submits strong test scores? Only a small handful of colleges and universities have publicized their rates of admission for students with scores and those without scores, allowing us a peek behind the curtain. Schools have no requirement, and honestly, no incentive to publish this data, so we are grateful for the transparency of the schools that do. 

Because we have a small data set, we have to be careful in our attempts to generalize to a broader sample of colleges. Every admissions office will have its own weighting of factors for admission, including testing. 

Additionally, when there is a significant difference between acceptance rates for test submitters and non-submitters, we must remember that these two groups of students differ in other ways apart from their decision to submit test scores. Generally, students with robust testing also have other strong academic credentials. So if test-submitters are accepted at a rate that is 75% higher than non-submitters, it is effectively impossible to determine what portion of that 75% “advantage” is due directly to higher testing, and what portion to other, indirect factors, such as stronger academic credentials. It’s an issue of correlation versus causation, of “colinearity” of factors.  

Pulling from public press releases and information provided by the colleges and universities, in addition to information reported by education writer Jeff Selingo, we have put together the following table. Everything has a direct source and citation. We often took information from multiple sources to complete the table. 

College/University   Admit.Rate  with Tests Admit.Rate without.Tests  Testing Advantage  
UVA 26% 14% 89%
Notre Dame 22% 11% 99%
Boston College 29% 11% 169%
Fordham 63% 49% 29%
Tufts 13% 9% 44%
Barnard 10% 6% 56%
Wellesley 17% 9% 83%
Emory 17% 9% 98%
Colgate 25% 12% 108%
Georgia Tech 22% 10% 120%
Vanderbilt 7% 6% 20%

 

The range of differential admissions rates is compelling. Students applying with test scores at Fordham have a 29% higher rate of acceptance compared to a 169% “advantage” at Boston College. It would seem that the admissions office at BC is putting a premium on test scores. Similarly, students submitting test scores to UVA, Notre Dame, Barnard, Wellesley and Emory have an “advantage” of 89%, 99%, 56%, 83% and 98% respectively. Georgia Tech students now no longer have the option of not submitting scores, as they are required to do so to be considered for admission.

We will continue to track data as it becomes available. For now, our general advice to students remains the same: work to get the best score you can on the SAT or ACT and submit to colleges where your best score reinforces your academic fit for the school.


Sources:

The Cavalier Daily; University of Notre Dame admissions blog and class profile; Boston College class profile, news release and admissions website; Fordham University admissions website; Tufts University admissions website; Barnard Admitted Class of 2026 Profile; Wellesley College news release and website; data as reported by Jeff Selingo in his admissions newsletter Next.

 


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