Not submitting an SAT/ACT? 7 Ways to Make Your College Application Stand Out

The pandemic has cancelled SAT and ACT tests leading many universities to adopt test optional policies. If you can’t take these tests or are choosing not to submit your SAT/ACT score, the rest of your application will hold a lot of weight in the admission decision process. We’ve compiled 7 ways you can help your college application stand out.

7 Ways to Make Your College Application Stand Out Without Test Scores

1. Find Opportunity in a Difficult Situation

Yes, camp was cancelled and trips were postponed, so spend your down time intentionally. Take an online course, diversify your skills, or improve your neighborhood. This may be a good time to try something that was always on your bucket list but you never had the time to do (marathon training, auto maintenance, knitting, creative writing, anime, programming, etc). Add these things to your extracurricular section of your college application.

Oh and by the way, a new application question this year asks about your experience during COVID-19. What will you say? 

2. Build a Strong Transcript

Think carefully about your transcript because it’s the only quantitative demonstration of your academic ability. Junior and Senior year courses and grades will be weighted heavily in admission decisions this year. Take classes that challenge and interest you. Take the most rigorous classes you can while still maintaining a high GPA. Find your “academic rigor” sweet-spot where you can earn A’s and B’s. An SAT score only showcases your ability on one particular day, but your transcript demonstrates your efforts and outcomes over time.

3. Connect With Your Dream College

Love a particular college? Show them! Contact the admission office, connect with an alumni, schedule a virtual tour, and book an interview with the admissions counselor so you can get to know more about the college even though you cannot visit it in person. Colleges keep track of the ways you demonstrated interest and many times will use this data in their decision.

4. Ask for Strong Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters have more weight than ever before. Have a phone conversation (insert dramatic music) with those who will be writing on your behalf. Explain the schools and programs you are applying to and ask what they need to offer a strong reference to your character qualities. Request that they demonstrate your positive attributes through a compelling story. They may want you to brainstorm with them or for them with a “brag sheet”. 

5. Rethink Your Extracurricular Activities

Rethink “extracurricular activities”. Sports, band, and community service are the usual suspects in this category, but consider adding other ways you are spending your time.

Do you care for siblings or a grandparent?

Have you built or created something just for fun?

Film a short movie?

Are you running a small business?

Are you teaching yourself an instrument or have you blown through 50 novels this summer? 

6. Research, Research, Research

Show that you’ve done your research by acing the college-specific supplemental questions with insider knowledge. Read the college’s mission statement, find specific programs, classes, or research that interest you, identify a club that sounds cool. Then connect these things to you. Weave into your responses how specific things about their college match with your goals. 

7. Submit All “Optional” Materials

Optional really means mandatory. With one less data point this year, we are encouraging students to take advantage of every opportunity to share about themselves. Book the interview, answer the optional essay, submit the extra letter of recommendation, and go the extra mile (within the school’s parameters) to showcase your “fit” with their school.


These are just a few suggestions from Bright Futures College Consultants. If you’re uncertain about submitting your college applications this fall, we are host Virtual Application Camps to guide students just like you through the different college applications – Apply Texas, Common App, and Coalition Application. Make your application shine!

Interested in learning more about this camp or getting the guidance you need? Contact us today.

P.S. Drop any questions about these cancelled SAT tests, test optional, and college applications down in the comments.

– Written by Jigisha Doshi and Jennifer Mohr

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