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easypeasy

So, When a School Says "Test Optional," Do We Truly Believe Them?

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DSs "dream school" is now test optional. This was the last school on his list to make it official. He's a music major, so will have to apply to the university and the music school separately. Their acceptance rates are tiny (~13%, IIRC - for each). Other conservatories he's looking at have microscopic acceptance rates, but don't care about test scores.

He is entering senior year and has only taken one "throw away/practice" SAT test last summer (before jr. year). That score was a'ight, but... after proper prepping... we expect an ACT to yield around 33-34 for him if he were to ever get to take the darn thing. At this point, he might only get one shot in December or something (which is the latest test score a few schools on his list would "officially" accept).

He is having to invest a substantial amount of time prepping for the ACT. Due to COVID, my normal prepping schedule for the kids is completely screwed up, so it's dragging out, and he would rather do anything other than prep for this test if he doesn't even have to take it. He'll be enrolled concurrently next semester in ~12-15 credit hours and wants to spend his time on THAT (and audition preparation and practice) and not on ACT prep.

Mostly, I think I'm nervous because he's homeschooled. We've checked the homeschool requirements for these schools and none of them require anything additional other than the typical "explanation" paperwork from the counselor (why we homeschooled, how we homeschooled, how we tested knowledge, etc). He'll have amazing letters of recommendation, a competitive transcript, and an outstanding CV. In all honesty, at his core, he's a "B+/A-" academic student and an "A+++" music student. lol He REALLY hates the test prep. lol

Some schools have automatic scholarship based on test scores, but I imagine they'll have to revamp those if they're going test-optional?

So - if your kid were applying to a handful of academically selective universities that have ALL stated they are "test optional"... while also applying to exceptionally selective music schools (who don't give a rat's @$$ what his ACT score is...) - would you have him continue to heavily prep for the ACT, or just let it go??

P.S. He HAS to prep for it. Just going in and taking it isn't an option because he'll bomb it. All my kids were this way. For them, standardized tests require prep. Having no score would be much better than having a bad one, no doubt! 😄

Edited by easypeasy
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Well, I'm guessing test optional relates to acceptance?  And if they have automatic scholarship based on test scores, they may still use test scores for scholarships?  

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If you are correct that he might get a 33 or 34 on the ACT those are excellent scores. I believe it would be a "Plus" (or more than a "Plus") if he submits an ACT in that range or just below that range.

Note: You didn't ask, but my DD used a Kaplan Online thing to study for the ACT. I believe it had a lot of videos she could watch and occasional Online sessions with an Instructor, where the students could ask the Instructor(s) questions. She found that Live Online help very helpful. It was $100 for several months or more. Not per month, total cost. She found that somewhat more helpful than studying on Khan Academy, which is free, for the SAT exam. There is (or was) a tie-in between ACT and Kaplan.

Also, in one or 2 recent threads on WTM, I have seen some very positive comments about Prep Scholar and the help the students received from that company for the ACT exam.

If your DS doesn't submit test scores he may be admitted. Or, v.v.   

Rigor is something the Admissions staff is looking for. Studying for those exams and taking them has always been part of the ritual.

Good luck to him!

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My daughter received an email for Miami University that they would be test optional this coming year...except for homeschool students or for schools that don’t give grades.  My daughter tested in December(?) of her Junior year and scored a 34 because she wanted it over with, so she is set, but how do they expect homeschool students to accomplish a feat that others can’t?  Either the test is offered or it isn’t.

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I will have him prep for the test. Most are test optional for admissions but I am sure a high test score will help and with schools that are selective, everything you can do to increase his chances will be beneficial. 

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When we did our college application process this last year, we had several admissions sessions claim that SAT subject tests were "optional." When we actually spoke one-on-one with the admissions officers after the session, they universally said that what they meant was "students for whom the registration fees for the subject tests were a burden should consider them optional." The "optional" aspect only applied for lower-income applicants, but they never stated that clearly. The language was often very cagey, because the name of the game for lots of those admissions sessions was to bring up the application numbers and make anyone feel like they had a chance to get in!

For homeschoolers, we found that pretty much no testing was optional. They really want all of the standardized data that you can give them to evaluate homeschool applications. Even interviews, which are almost always sold as an optional component of the application, were definitely NOT optional for us as homeschoolers (two of our schools told us this in person, but we never found it written anywhere on the website).

This year, because of covid19, getting the tests in is a whole new challenge. If your student tests well and you can squeeze in the test, it is really worth it to do so. Essential for homeschoolers looking at competitive universities/programs, I would guess. Even if admissions isn't a concern, scholarships look hard at SAT/ACT scores. My son really hated test prep too because he scored well on his first taking, but even small bumps at the upper score levels (i.e. something like a 1540 to a 1560 on the SAT or a 33 to a 34 on the ACT) can move you into consideration for scholarships that have fixed fenceposts and automatically consider students based on an arbitrary score boundary.

Good luck with college admissions!

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Honestly for a homeschooler, I’d probably submit it if at all possible.  

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I think the only time it is okay to not do the tests when it claims test optional is when there is something really great you have to give, like you were recruited to a sports team, you fit a demographic that they want more of, you are the child of the president. The rest of the time, you need to submit test scores. 

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I think, as a homeschooler, I would really submit them unless they were below average for the school or if it was down the list of schools being applied to and student wouldn't be heartbroken not to get it. You said "dream school" so I would submit since you are looking at a 33-34 ACT.

Who knows how things will work out this year? Maybe average scores will be lower because students couldn't take them over and over and while admissions might be understanding with no or low scores, in that environment perhaps a really high score might be more valuable than ever. Maybe ??

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Better to have and not need than to need and not have. I would absolutely have my kids take the test. And if their education was solid in the years leading up to it, test prep doesn't take more than a month with a targeted prep book so they can drill the format. Why do you think your DS needs such a lot of time?

Edited by regentrude
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If he can hit a score of 33-34, that would be a definite plus (doubly so for a homeschooler), so I would have him take it. The prep doesn't have to be that onerous — DS used PrepScholar to hit the score you're shooting for, and it didn't take up a crazy amount of time. 

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Test prep probably takes so long because he hates it so much 😂 Also, my kids are very artsy. Engaging their brains in super-fast information-regurgitation mode just isn't their style. It's like a workout process. They have to keep it maintained to stay in shape. 😂 Otherwise, it all floats right outta their heads and they go back to their artsy, daydreamy ways. So, he was "prepped" for an April test that didn't happen - continued prepping for a June date we didn't do - and is looking at months ahead and not feeling it. 
 

I think we'll switch to one of the online methods advised here and start in July. It'll be a change of pace for him, at least, and we'll keep fingers crossed for a fall date! 

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I am surprised at answers. I would have expected that for homeschoolers in general but not for music majors. I would have thought auditions would trump everything. Just taking notes here😋.  
Good luck on auditions!

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According to a couple of the schools DD has talked to, ACT/SAT is optional for admissions, but will be considered for scholarships. 

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4 hours ago, Roadrunner said:

I am surprised at answers. I would have expected that for homeschoolers in general but not for music majors. I would have thought auditions would trump everything. Just taking notes here😋.  
Good luck on auditions!

 

Agreed! lol I fully expected everyone to be, "Sure! Test optional means exactly that! Live free and go practice, kid!" 😅 Poor kid. His auditions will, of course, get him IN to the schools he wants, so practice for those will carry on at the expense of everything else, even test scores, no matter what I say. His music always comes first.

Normally, I'd say auditions trump everything. But with COVID, we just have no flipping idea! lol I don't know if the music departments will even HAVE any money, or if he should focus solely on academics. *sigh*

His tippy-top picks are schools that don't give automatic score-based scholarships, so that makes it more complicated (ie. all this test prep for scholarship purposes is for schools further down on his list). I wish his "dream school" was one of the conservatories, because I'd tell him to scrap the ACT in a millisecond. But, alas, the conservatories begin at #3 or #4 on his list. 🙄

Edited by easypeasy
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13 hours ago, Roadrunner said:

I am surprised at answers. I would have expected that for homeschoolers in general but not for music majors. I would have thought auditions would trump everything. Just taking notes here😋.  
Good luck on auditions!

We are friends with a homeschool family who just graduated a senior who applied as a theatre major this last year. They described it as almost a double application process. One part of it was competitive college admissions, and another whole part of it was managing the auditions (scheduling challenge!)/artistic portfolios/etc. I did not envy all of the work that they had to juggle! At the end of the process, my friend told me that she wished that they had taken the SAT another time to try to bump up the score a tiny bit more for scholarship purposes. I think they were just very slightly out of range for some nice scholarships that would have really helped on the financial side. So, sadly, no rest for the artistic!

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16 minutes ago, UmmIbrahim said:

We are friends with a homeschool family who just graduated a senior who applied as a theatre major this last year. They described it as almost a double application process. One part of it was competitive college admissions, and another whole part of it was managing the auditions (scheduling challenge!)/artistic portfolios/etc. I did not envy all of the work that they had to juggle! At the end of the process, my friend told me that she wished that they had taken the SAT another time to try to bump up the score a tiny bit more for scholarship purposes. I think they were just very slightly out of range for some nice scholarships that would have really helped on the financial side. So, sadly, no rest for the artistic!


This is very, very true for most schools and most music kids. My daughter is attending university on a full ride - due to her academics/volunteer record - Despite her amazing musical ability. The music dept promised her a "near full ride" if the academic scholarship didn't come through, but their typical top music scholarship is only around $4k & her dept had to get the approval of the entire music dept before offering her such a thing (they only have a couple of those to give for the entire music school, so she had to be a musical top pick & agreed upon by other instrumental depts and was ONLY in the running because she was QUALIFIED to compete for the top-tier academic scholarships).

We were surprised to learn that many conservatories had unadvertised, competitive academic scholarships and that's where the "real" $ was! Unfortunately, DS isn't applying anywhere DD applied, so I can't reuse any of that knowledge this round! 🙄

His schools are either academic reaches/lotteries or they literally do not care one iota (it's all about that audition!).

UPDATE to my OP: One of the schools says homeschoolers still have to test (I won't even get IN to how ridiculous that is and would probably challenge it if this all weren't so darn important - and WILL Challenge it if testing conditions don't feel appropriate) - so he's a little less surly about the prep now that it doesn't feel "extra."

Edited by easypeasy
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15 hours ago, Roadrunner said:

I am surprised at answers. I would have expected that for homeschoolers in general but not for music majors. I would have thought auditions would trump everything. Just taking notes here😋.  
Good luck on auditions!

My kid auditioned/applied at a bunch of music programs last year. If you're looking  at schools like U Michigan, Northwestern, LAC's, etc they do want to ensure you can handle the academic load as well as the music program.  It really is like a double application process.  If you are applying to straight independent conservatories, you might get slightly different answers. But I think especially for a homeschooler, it's good to have as much academic data as you  can provide.  If you had a couple full years of DE or something with excellent grades at a reasonably reputable CC or local U maybe not.  

We also found the music application/visit/audition process to be grayer than expected.  It really isn't about JUST your  music talent.  These programs want some diversity in backgrounds, geography, and training levels.  Like I know a couple passionate urban kids that didn't start music until high school that got really amazing opportunities in a college setting.  Some people may just click or know a music faculty member.  My kid was asked very leading questions that made it obvious schools were trying to figure out what kind of merit packages he was looking for in sample lessons.  These programs absolutely know what other programs can do for you financially in terms of merit.  He had great long visits at a couple places where seemed to click with faculty where he ended up not getting an offer. One faculty member reached out under the table and said something along the lines of  ... we'd love to see you for grad school auditions, wish we could have afforded to make you an offer". 

We also found some music faculty weren't excited about really academic students with  broader interests either.   Such a weird process.   

My kid was offered merit everywhere he got in and very often it was balanced between academic  and music and if anything weighed heavier the academic side.  Music programs for undergrads tend to have limited to funds to work with and often prioritize grad students and high need instruments.   

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24 minutes ago, FuzzyCatz said:

My kid auditioned/applied at a bunch of music programs last year. If you're looking  at schools like U Michigan, Northwestern, LAC's, etc they do want to ensure you can handle the academic load as well as the music program.  It really is like a double application process.  If you are applying to straight independent conservatories, you might get slightly different answers. But I think especially for a homeschooler, it's good to have as much academic data as you  can provide.  If you had a couple full years of DE or something with excellent grades at a reasonably reputable CC or local U maybe not.  

We also found the music application/visit/audition process to be grayer than expected.  It really isn't about JUST your  music talent.  These programs want some diversity in backgrounds, geography, and training levels.  Like I know a couple passionate urban kids that didn't start music until high school that got really amazing opportunities in a college setting.  Some people may just click or know a music faculty member.  My kid was asked very leading questions that made it obvious schools were trying to figure out what kind of merit packages he was looking for in sample lessons.  These programs absolutely know what other programs can do for you financially in terms of merit.  He had great long visits at a couple places where seemed to click with faculty where he ended up not getting an offer. One faculty member reached out under the table and said something along the lines of  ... we'd love to see you for grad school auditions, wish we could have afforded to make you an offer". 

We also found some music faculty weren't excited about really academic students with  broader interests either.   Such a weird process.   

My kid was offered merit everywhere he got in and very often it was balanced between academic  and music and if anything weighed heavier the academic side.  Music programs for undergrads tend to have limited to funds to work with and often prioritize grad students and high need instruments.   


Was that for conservatories? 
 

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4 minutes ago, Roadrunner said:


Was that for conservatories? 
 

Some LAC's, some conservatories set in colleges/universities.  Actually, things seemed a more straight forward for my kid at major public universities  (he auditioned/applied to 3 of those).   We found the LAC's with good music programs particularly quirky.   He ended up at a public U.  Partially because of unusually generous merit.  Partly because he just clicked with that faculty and one faculty member went WAY out of the way to make him feel welcome.  I think it's just good to go through the process with an open mind and see where the money and the love take you.  The whole process went differently than we expected.  The school my kid ended up at was not initially high on his list at all and has been a great fit for him.  He is a dual degree student.  Of course YMMV, this is just one quirky highly academic music student's experience.   

There was one LAC in particular my kid went to for music audition day where it was SO obvious the faculty was courting the unique applicants at a group social event before auditions.  My son did get an offer there but really ended up not liking faculty/music vibe at all after loving everything else about that school and it being high on his list earlier.  

The other thing we found that was surprising was the faculty we found the most impressive wasn't always at the higher ranking music program.  He met with faculty at a couple places that I were surprised were even teaching at the college level.   Musicians tend to want to be near urban areas, larger cities, etc so maybe it makes sense.   We saw really mediocre recordings from highly ranked schools and fantastic recordings from little known schools.  It kind of blew our sense of rankings meaning a whole lot.  

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3 minutes ago, FuzzyCatz said:

Some LAC's, some conservatories set in colleges/universities.  Actually, things seemed a more straight forward for my kid at major public universities  (he auditioned/applied to 3 of those).   We found the LAC's with good music programs particularly quirky.   He ended up at a public U.  Partially because of unusually generous merit.  Partly because he just clicked with that faculty and one faculty member went WAY out of the way to make him feel welcome.  I think it's just good to go through the process with an open mind and see where the money and the love take you.  The whole process went differently than we expected.  The school my kid ended up at was not initially high on his list at all and has been a great fit for him.  He is a dual degree student.  Of course YMMV, this is just one quirky highly academic music student's experience.   

There was one LAC in particular my kid went to for music audition day where it was SO obvious the faculty was courting the unique applicants at a group social event before auditions.  My son did get an offer there but really ended up not liking faculty/music vibe at all after loving everything else about that school and it being high on his list earlier.  

The other thing we found that was surprising was the faculty we found the most impressive wasn't always at the higher ranking music program.  He met with faculty at a couple places that I were surprised were even teaching at the college level.   Musicians tend to want to be near urban areas, larger cities, etc so maybe it makes sense.   We saw really mediocre recordings from highly ranked schools and fantastic recordings from little known schools.  It kind of blew our sense of rankings meaning a whole lot.  


May I PM you for “names”?

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I vote 100% in favor of testing. 

On 6/21/2020 at 8:00 PM, Roadrunner said:

I would have thought auditions would trump everything.  

I don't know how directly this correlates with straight music, but a few years ago I did a bit of reading about Carnegie Mellon's drama and musical theater programs (not for my own kids). Both local and internet chatter was that auditions trump everything, and that test scores didn't matter much. Well, CMU has a very high ACT range, 33-35, and I found it really hard to believe that test scores weren't significant in all departments. I don't have the link handy anymore, but drama/theater scores were a bit lower but still extremely high. I want to say just one point lower for range, 32-34, but it was possibly two points lower, 31-33. 

My takeaway was that they certainly are looking for an amazing audition, but they have enough amazing auditions that they can choose from among the high scorers. 

If a university has an exceptionally high ACT range, I think they do care very much about scores even for the performing arts. For schools that require testing for performing arts majors, I think it weighs heavily. For testing optional schools, I think a high score would significantly be in your favor. 

Every school should be able to give you a score range for the performing arts department. Most of the time, you are going to find it a close match for the overall school.  

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2 hours ago, katilac said:

I vote 100% in favor of testing. 

I don't know how directly this correlates with straight music, but a few years ago I did a bit of reading about Carnegie Mellon's drama and musical theater programs (not for my own kids). Both local and internet chatter was that auditions trump everything, and that test scores didn't matter much. Well, CMU has a very high ACT range, 33-35, and I found it really hard to believe that test scores weren't significant in all departments. I don't have the link handy anymore, but drama/theater scores were a bit lower but still extremely high. I want to say just one point lower for range, 32-34, but it was possibly two points lower, 31-33. 

My takeaway was that they certainly are looking for an amazing audition, but they have enough amazing auditions that they can choose from among the high scorers. 

If a university has an exceptionally high ACT range, I think they do care very much about scores even for the performing arts. For schools that require testing for performing arts majors, I think it weighs heavily. For testing optional schools, I think a high score would significantly be in your favor. 

Every school should be able to give you a score range for the performing arts department. Most of the time, you are going to find it a close match for the overall school.  

This is very true.  Music department test scores are most often in range of academic students test scores.  For highly competitive conservatory music programs, it isn't unusual to have acceptance rates under 5-10% and drama programs can be even more competitive.  Can vary by instrument of course.  But even at major university music programs, acceptance rates can be in the 15-20% range.  They have MANY applicants and probably 90% of the applicants are likely capable of the music end of the program.  Most music students that bother applying are pretty serious about their craft and nose to the grindstone.  

Most schools want a mix of students too (geographic and ethnic diversity) and need a certain number who can pay full freight. 

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On 6/21/2020 at 10:02 PM, dmmetler said:

According to a couple of the schools DD has talked to, ACT/SAT is optional for admissions, but will be considered for scholarships. 

I really hope that is true for the colleges that my daughter is applying to.  My daughter (rising senior) hasn't taken the SAT yet (she was supposed to in May).  Since the schools that she is interested in are going test-optional, she doesn't want to take it at all now.  She won't do well on it, so I tend to agree that there is no point to do so. ( I am sure that she would score well enough to fit into the parameters of acceptable SAT scores for the schools, but nothing more than that.)  Since we have always planned to pay full freight for her college, we are hoping that she can get in without the SAT.  Fortunately, she isn't interested in any competitive schools!

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I would assume until there is ample evidence otherwise that homeschoolers will need test scores.

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