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How to Make a Good Impression Without Any Test Scores

Many colleges are now test-optional, yet they still review standardized test scores. But what if you didn't take the SAT or ACT? Here's what you can focus on.

Over the past year, many colleges and universities went test-optional, meaning standardized test scores aren’t required in order to apply. While this may seem like a dream come true to some, many colleges are still considering and making admission decisions off students’ SAT and ACT scores—test-optional schools included. This gives students who choose to submit their scores an advantage over those who couldn’t or didn’t take a test. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel! With these tips, you can make a good impression to admission committees and hopefully increase your chances of success without any standardized test scores. 

The importance of extracurriculars

Extracurriculars give college admission boards insight into who you are, what you’re interested in, and how much time you dedicate to other activities outside of school to help determine whether you’d be a good fit on their campus. Colleges want to see extracurricular activities on your résumé—and the more unique and influential, the better! Extracurriculars that demonstrate leadership, teamwork, dedication, and special skills are exemplary choices to focus on. Devoting time to your chosen extracurriculars will show admission committees that you are passionate in what you believe in. 

Without standardized testing, extracurriculars could be the next best thing for your college applications. Activities such as volunteering, student council/student government, NJHS and NHS, debate team, theater/school plays, internships, research opportunities, part-time jobs, Model United Nations, activism, and sports are all great places to start. If your interest isn’t on this list, don’t worry—any extracurricular can be exceptional if you enjoy what you do, stick with it, and exemplify important qualities that colleges look for. 

Related: Top High School Activities to Boost College Applications 

The importance of writing

Writing is one of the most important things to focus on while completing your college applications. Whether it’s your admission essay(s) or your letters of recommendation, focusing on writing is a must. The need to write the best college essay is quick to strike anxiety in a lot of students, but ensuring you follow the rules you already know and adding in your own touch of genius can make a major difference! Colleges look for creativity and personality in your essay—putting on a façade of a different, perfect person with no flaws is not what colleges look for. If you stay true to yourself, hold confidence in your abilities, and exercise what you already know, you can write the best essay you can! Many students who lag behind in GPA or test scores use their essay to convince college admission boards that they deserve a spot, and successes of this are found everywhere. 

Some students decide to skip over letters of recommendations, but this part of your application gives rare insight from a close person who knows you and gives admission officers a look at who you are personally, how hard you work, and why you deserve to hold a spot at their college. Recommendation rules vary, but the most common scenario requires any person who isn’t a family member or friend. This gives you the opportunity to ask a counselor, teacher, employer, colleague, or community member to write you a recommendation! Ensure that you ask someone who knows you well, and make sure they write about your personality as well as how you think. A recommendation that gives a vague depiction of you and could apply to a lot of other people will most likely fail to impress colleges. Don’t be afraid to give your writers a little guidance as well as plenty of time to work on their letter.

Related: Writing Habits to Kick Before Going to College 

The importance of standing out

When most people think about standing out, they picture child geniuses and extraordinary accomplishments that few have achieved. While this can be true, it doesn’t have to be! You can stand out by simply being yourself; if you apply yourself to be the best person you can be, hold yourself to high standards, and venture outside of your comfort zone to explore new adventurous opportunities, you can stand out by being you

Whether your prospective colleges prefer well-rounded students or students with a spike, standing out to admission officers is not impossible. For example, devoting your time to ballet and doing what you love is one of the many ways you can make a good impression. Wanting to achieve greatness, keeping up with your schoolwork, and having ballet (or anything else that you love) as an imperative part of your life all adds up to help you stand out. There are many other ways to do this, and there’s no wrong answer. The best way to determine whether you’ll stand out to admission committees is to ask yourself if what you’ve devoted yourself to is truly what you love—and if you’ve demonstrated this in your applications. If the answer is yes, then you have a great chance at making a great impression to colleges.

Related: 5 Ways to Beef Up Your College Applications 

Optional test scores may seem like a losing bet, but you can always make a great impression to colleges by focusing on extracurriculars, recommendations, your college essays, and standing out by being you. Admission officers enjoy seeing uniqueness and personality in an application. If you apply yourself and ensure that you enjoy what you’re doing, your hand-crafted application will be a perfect match for your future college.

Learn more about the process and other amazing ways to make your applications stand out in our College Admission section.

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About Melissa Mitchell

Melissa Mitchell

As a mere child, Melissa Mitchell’s vivid aspirations were often shut down and written off as a chimera. Discouragement written over their tongues often dulled the flame—but she did not cease. From that moment forward, Melissa made a vow to always believe in herself, for there is not success without it. Passions in life are difficult to find; leadership and writing are her passions, and she is here to encourage you to embrace yours. Dreams are truly mankind’s greatest power—never stop dreaming. 


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