Top 6 Test-Optional Tricks and Hacks for 2021 and 2022

#1 Understand School's Motivation

The appearance of exclusivity, rather than the development of an intellectually and spiritually enriching environment for students, is frequently what drives the adoption of test-optional policies. Yale’s application rate, for instance, went up 33-percent this year, and its introduction of a test-optional application must have been largely responsible. And, as noted in the New York Times, “with low scores out of the tabulation, the average test score — reported to U.S. News & World Report for its all-important rankings — rises”. 

New York University is another helpful case study in a willfully misleading test-optional policy. The 85,000 NYU applicants for the fall of 2018 were not required to submit test scores, but of the 6,700 students who enrolled, 4,277 submitted SAT scores and 1,796 submitted ACT scores. This allowed the university to boast that this incoming class was their “most selective in history,” having neatly cut their acceptance rate in half from what it had been in 2015 (from 31% to 15%).

#2 Explain Your Circumstances

Admissions officers are more likely to consider an application without test scores from underprivileged students who faced nearly impossible obstacles. Consider the story of JoEllen Soucier: her parents never received a high school education, her father disappeared when she was five, and when she was sixteen she was without a home at all. Thanks to her resolution and to financial aid, JoEllen went on to earn “a bachelor’s degree in business, two master’s degrees and is well on her way to earning her doctorate in higher education”. For students in similar positions of financial hardship, or ones who have, say, a documented learning difference, a test-optional application can be a good choice. Of course, many of the largest and most direct scholarships are granted through ACT or SAT scores. If you need money for college, try and figure out how much your current scores could get you. Check out “How Much Money is One ACT Point Worth” to learn more about this!

#3 Analyze Your Score

In deciding whether a standardized test score will benefit one’s application, it is helpful to look at the school’s admission data if it’s available. The middle 50 percent of the accepted students for Princeton’s class of 2024, for example, scored 740-800 on SAT Math, 710-800 on SAT evidence-based Reading and Writing, and 32-36 on the ACT. A student whose test scores fall comfortably within those ranges could only benefit from sending it in with her application, especially at a selective school like Princeton. As Jed Applerouth has speculated, “Students who do have strong scores are probably going to stand out a little more in this year,” since many other applicants will provide no scores at all.  But if a student’s score falls significantly below this average, it would of course be better not to let the school see it, though one would then be relying heavily on a high-school record, including extracurriculars, which would need to be exemplary. The decision to omit standardized test scores would make sense only for students with a disparity between their school performance and their testing performance (e.g. a student with straight A’s and a 16 on the ACT).

#4 Think About Finances

There are a host of scholarships given directly for ACT® or SAT® scores. That is not to say that you cannot earn scholarships without an ACT® or SAT®, however, these tests can serve as a very easy way to earn extra scholarship dollars. Here at Granite, we calculated that for each point your ACT score increases you can expect an averages scholarship increase of $8,451!

#5 Analyze Your Grades

In the absence of standardized test scores, colleges and universities will rely more heavily on your high school GPA. Accordingly, if your GPA is very high and your test scores are markedly low, it might be a good idea to consider applying test-optional. The table below offers a general comparison between high school GPA and ACT. This is based on an unweighted 4.0 GPA scale. 

ACT Score

GPA (4.0 Unweighted)





























#6 Identify “Student Type”

If you are in the small portion of students who have received likely letters (or another form of early admissions acknowledgment), it can be worth reaching out to the admissions office and inquiring about the need for standardized tests. Many star athletes and significant donor families (donations above 1 million in the last five years) have found that standardized tests were not needed for their admissions.


How to get the Hope Scholarship in Tennessee:

Students having tons of fun preparing for college

How to get the Hope Scholarship in Tennessee:

October 21, 2019
Every year the Tennessee State Government pays out millions of dollars in funding for students to attend college — here’s how to make the most of it in 3 easy steps!

#1 Qualify for the Hope Scholarship:

Few people realize, but the hope scholarship isn’t just one scholarship, it’s actually a suite of merit and need based scholarships with a range of academic and demographic benchmarks. The tables below will tell you what you need to do to qualify for each type of scholarship.

Non-Demographic Based:

Scholarship Amount/year ACT or SAT GPA Notes
Hope Basic $4,000 21 ACT / 1080 SAT 3.0 Available to all who meet requirements
Ned McWherter Scholars Program $6,000 29 ACT / 1300 SAT 3.5 Application based.
General Assembly Merit $4,000 29 ACT / 1300 SAT 3.75 Application based.

Demographic Based:

Scholarship Amount/year ACT or SAT GPA Demographic Notes
Helping Heroes $2,000 None None Veteran Honorably discharged active duty.
ASPIRE $1,500 21 ACT / 1080 SAT 3.0 Low Income Family or individual income below $36,000 annually.
HOPE Access Grant $3,000 18 ACT / 940 SAT 2.75 Low Income Family or individual income below $36,000 annually.
TSAA $4,000 None None Low Income EFC sub $2,100.
Consider how you can maximize the amount of money you receive, for some students this means studying for the ACT or finding a way to boost her/his GPA. Once a student has established all that she/he is possibly qualified for the next step is applying! If you are struggling with test taking a Granite Prep tutor can always help.

#2 Fill out FAFSA:

Before you can apply for any of these scholarships you must fill out the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid”. This is a form where students and families disclose their tax information to the federal government. The form can take a while to fill out, but it can mean being awarded “Pell Grants” (a.k.a more free money for college) so it’s definitely worth the time spent. Below is a link to FAFSA:

#3 Choose Your Scholarships on the TSAC Portal:

Our third and final step in the process is to make an account on the TSAC portal. TSAC (Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation), is the third party who is responsible for hosting and processing all the HOPE scholarship applications. In other words, this is where you go to apply for all the HOPE scholarships. Creating an account on the portal is easy, just follow the link below and fill out your information and apply to any scholarship you wish!


  1. Determine what you qualify for
  2. Complete FAFSA
  3. Apply with TSAC
If you have any additional questions please leave a comment and we will respond as well as we can! If you still feel a little confused and you would like to make an appointment with a Granite Prep college counselor reach out at:


or learn more at:


Grantly Neely is a certified mindfulness teacher and founder of Granite Prep a company dedicated to helping it’s students achieve their ambitions while building resilient minds.

5 Tips for Writing a Great College Essay

prestigious college or university

5 Tips for Writing a Great College Essay

August 18, 2019


 Admission officers look at accepting students as building a class. They want the class they are building to “get along” and build lifelong friendships with each other. Accordingly, sharing stories about your friendships and social life can be very good topics in a common app essay. This certainly doesn’t mean you need to talk about how many friends you have or convince anyone you are “popular”; however, sharing stories about meaningful relationships in your life can show a reader mountains about who you are.

College admissions readers are looking to build a diverse and interesting class of students. The common app essay serves as a critical opportunity for the admissions readers to understand who you are as a real person. One of the best ways to show the “real you” is simply to share a story of your high school experience.
Don’t be scared to talk about hardship, adversity, or challenges you have overcome. No one is perfect, and the college admissions readers know that. Reflecting maturely on something in your life that didn’t go perfectly can result in an incredible essay!
The common app essay isn’t like all the 5 paragraph essays you wrote in high school. It doesn’t need to have a thesis statement, topic sentences and three body paragraphs. It is a personal statement, designed to tell the admissions readers more about you. As long as the essay is captivating and tells the reader about who you are, you can use as many paragraphs and any structure you like.
Sharing a lesson you’ve learned in the last 4 years can be a very successful essay topic; it shows humility, an ability to learn and maturity. Be careful, however, not to write an essay about how you are now “enlightened” or have “figured it all out”. Many students attempt to write essays about knowing nothing as freshman and now knowing everything. These stark contrasts just sound cheesy.
If you still feel like you need some tips for your Common App essay feel free to leave a question below or reach out at contact@granitetestprep.com

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