While some graduate schools have opted for a test-optional approach over the past few years, that number jumped significantly during the pandemic as universities had to shutter their physical doors and taking admissions tests in person became a health hazard.
The test optional movement has also gained momentum as the validity of standardized tests for both undergrad and graduate schools have recently come under scrutiny in light of various equity and diversity issues. While those issues are being addressed, standardized tests still remain a field-leveling factor in many admissions processes.
Holistic admissions don’t preclude test scores
The concept of holistic admissions has become more popular, and that is a good thing. Weighing a candidate’s full list of qualifications equally versus prioritizing GRE® or GMAT™ test scores and their GPA isn’t a bad thing. But it also doesn’t mean that submitting test scores should be discounted altogether. Admissions tests still have their place — they serve as a common barometer for a student’s general knowledge and thinking acumen.
More importantly, in the highly competitive world of graduate school admissions, you want to give yourself every advantage in the crowd of high-achieving applicants by providing a complete qualitative and quantitative picture of your qualifications, and test scores can help you do that.
Additional qualifications set you apart
In addition to your general application, you’ll submit transcripts, essays, personal statements and letters of recommendation — and so will every other applicant. If it comes down to you and another candidate at a test optional school and you submit qualifying test scores and the other person doesn’t, it puts you at a significant advantage for getting an acceptance letter.
In addition to adopting a test optional stance on admissions, some grad schools may not mandate things like essays or personal statements. It’s imperative that you thoroughly review the requests and requirements of each program you’re applying to. If there are optional application elements, it may be a good idea to still submit them for the reasons stated above.
However, if a program states they don’t want a certain item as part of your application, comply with that. Doing otherwise just makes it look like you can’t follow directions, didn’t do your due diligence or just don’t want to respect their protocols.
When in doubt, take the test
The bottom line here is that test optional means just that — it’s your option whether to submit test scores. It’s understandable to feel relieved that you don’t have to sit through a long, pressure-filled test, but on the other hand, think what you can prove to yourself as well as the admissions committees. If you can prepare and do well on a standardized test, then it’s safe to say you’ll probably have what it takes to do well in the program you’re applying to.