For most students, the SAT and ACT feel like the biggest hurdles to overcome in the college admissions process. Luckily for us, colleges all over the country will be “test-optional” in the fall due to standardized test cancellations for countless students! Some of these schools colleges that have the best financial aid in the country, including Wake Forest and University of Chicago. (Uchechi provides a full list in her book, The Outlier Effect.) 

What does it mean to be “test-optional?” Test-optional is when a college does not require you to submit your SAT or ACT scores for admission. That means, if you do not choose to submit these test scores, it will not negatively impact your chances of getting into the university. 

Applying to a test-optional college is particularly beneficial if you haven’t been able to access lots of tests prep or if you find standardized testing stressful or difficult overall.  Applying to a test-optional school could increase your chances of being admitted into highly-ranked schools with great financial aid.

So, if colleges don’t just want the SAT and ACT, what are they looking for this Fall?


1. Excellent Grades 

If you’re applying to college in the Fall, keep in mind that colleges will want to know your junior year midterm grades. You will need to show the admissions office that you will excel in the classroom at their institution!

    • Keep up good study habits. Review your class notes each week, take online practice tests in subjects you struggle in, and complete all your homework assignments.
    • Get tutoring for subjects that you need help with.
    • Ask your teachers questions about how assignments are graded and what you can do to improve your work.


2. Challenging Classes

Colleges want to see that you are growing as an academic over time. Each year your classes should increase in difficulty so that you become more and more prepared for the higher level of academia that awaits you in college.

    • Make sure that each school year you take classes that are more challenging than you took the previous year. Try an AP class! But most importantly don’t overload yourself. It’s better to have an A- average with a balanced course load, than a B- average because you’re stressed and can’t keep up.
    • Ask your guidance counselor if there are any classes you can take for college credit, whether online or at your own school. This is especially a great strategy to use if you didn’t do so well in a class the first time. Just retake the class, and show the admissions office that you have drive and initiative. 


3. A Killer Personal Statement

Your personal statement allows colleges to see who you are and how you will affect their campus atmosphere. Give them a great sense of your personality, drive, and personal goals. It will show them how you will fit into their environment.

    • Ask yourself bigger questions: Who am I? Why do I want to go to college? What do I bring to this environment that no one else does?
    • Have an idea of what you want your future to look like. What are your dreams? This can be career-oriented, dreams of a better world, or even what you hope to learn in college and beyond. Admissions officers want to know where you see yourself going. 
    • Show that you are passionate about a cause greater than yourself. What impact do you make in your family, community, or society at large? Admissions officers want to hear you talk about being an active citizen in the world. 


4. Extracurricular Activities

Stand out from the crowd by starting or continuing extracurriculars while in quarantine! Your extracurricular life will show your colleges what you’re passionate about and how you take steps toward your goals.

    • Check out our previous article on quarantine-friendly extracurricular activities: 7 Virtual Extracurriculars You Can Start Now.
    • Don’t portray yourself as “well-rounded” with lots of extracurriculars (which many other students will do). Portray yourself as passionate about one or a few extracurricular activities that mean a lot to you.
    • Be a leader in your extracurricular activities and make a positive community impact. This doesn’t mean you have to become president of an organization, or even cure cancer. For admissions officers, leadership is anytime you stand up for other people and impact is anytime you try to make a change. Knowing you, I’m already sure you’ve got some leadership and impact under your belt already. 

Want to learn more about how to craft the perfect application post-Covid, check out The Outlier Effect, and learn simple strategies on how to get into great colleges and afford to go.