Clearly, test-optional admissions are here to stay, with more than 1,600 four-year colleges offering test-optional admissions for the fall. More than 80 others are test-blind for the 2021 admissions cycle, according to FairTest’s online database of testing policies. So students not wanting to submit test scores will have plenty of schools to choose from. But pulling back the curtain shows that just because you don’t have to doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t.

First off, a few quick definitions: Test-optional means that applicants can choose whether to submit test scores and if they do, those scores will be considered as part of their application for admission. Test-blind means that the school will not review or consider test scores even if the student submits them.

Last year, almost all four-year colleges were test optional simply due to the unavailability of the SAT and ACT. Students wondering whether to submit scores to test-optional schools this fall would be wise to look at acceptance rates for test submitters vs non-submitters in last year’s admissions cycle. Rate differences varied tremendously from school to school: Georgetown reported admitting 10.79% of its early action pool; however, only 7.34% of those who did not submit test scores were admitted, meaning that test submitters were considerably more likely to be admitted. Three-quarters of the University of Pennsylvania’s early decision acceptances submitted test scores. On the other hand, schools like Tufts, Notre Dame and Boston University admitted roughly the same percentages of test submitters and non-submitters, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Remember, too, that test-optional is an admissions policy, not necessarily a scholarship policy. Merit aid awards will in many cases use test scores. For example, the University of Chicago has been test-optional for admissions since 2018; however, the only merit scholarship available to undergraduates is the National Merit Scholarship.

So, what’s a student to do? The consistent feedback I’ve received from admissions counselors and others is, “Take the tests.” The simple reason is, they can’t hurt you. Then, decide whether to submit on a school-by-school basis. If your scores are high relative to the school’s student body, then definitely submit them. If they put you in the running for merit scholarships, submit them. If they aren’t, don’t.

How do you know if your scores are high relative to the student body? Look up the school on Collegedata. Under the Admissions tab, scroll down to “SAT (or ACT) Scores of Enrolled Freshmen.” There you will see the middle 50% range for each section of each test. If your score is above the higher score, that means you’re in the top quartile for that student body. For example, here is the testing data from Lewis & Clark College’s page:

The middle 50% of SAT Math scores is 590-690, so if you scored over 690, you’re in the top quartile and should submit your scores. Based on the data shown, a student who scored 720 in math and 700 on language would benefit from submitting their scores. A student with scores in the middle might want to know more about Lewis & Clark’s admissions last year and whether they favored students who submitted scores over those who did not, then make a decision considering the overall strength of their application.