I’m just back from a week on the road. In comparing notes during our staff meeting, we found (not surprisingly) that we all had encountered similar questions from students, families and counselors. A frequent question was about optional submissions as part of the application: “What does optional mean?” or “Is this really optional?” Students asked sincerely; some parents asked repeatedly, thinking that maybe there was a secret answer to be triggered by some magic word. I’d like to put that all to rest by saying that optional means just that: not required or compulsory, but instead: at your discretion, or if there’s a need to submit it.
Let me explain. We require either the SAT or ACT as part of our application. Either is fine, and we do not have a preference for one test type (secret or otherwise!). If students have taken other tests (SAT Subject Tests, AP test, IB examinations) and they are submitted as part of their transcript or with their application, we will look at them. And sometimes they provide additional context or clarity to an aspect of a student’s academic record, but more often they simply attest to information already evident in the transcript. We require two teacher recommendations as well as a counselor rec. An additional recommendation may be submitted if that recommender can provide information about the student that won’t be found elsewhere in the application. In our experience, optional information may have the potential to be helpful, but most of the time it is only corroborating what we’ve already learned about the student based on the required pieces of the application.
We are thoughtful and purposeful when determining what to require as part of an application to Olin. We ask for everything that we need, clearly and specifically, so students and their partners in the college process are not reduced to guessing at what we REALLY want. There are no tricks! It’s all right here.