What Is a Test-Optional College?
Test Scores and College Applications
During the pandemic, colleges have introduced more flexibility and choice into the admissions process. Many have decided to adopt a “test-optional” policy regarding college entrance exams, either temporarily or permanently. College Board supports these decisions, especially now.
Most colleges still encourage students to submit their scores when they can, but they don't require all students to do so in every instance. For most students who take the SAT, sending scores will strengthen their college application.
What Is Test-Optional?
If a college or university has a test-optional admissions policy, that means they allow all or some applicants to decide whether to submit SAT or ACT® scores as part of their application. It doesn’t mean that schools aren’t interested in seeing all applicants’ test scores—but if a student doesn’t submit their scores, it won’t be counted against them in the application review.
In a recent survey, representatives from test-optional colleges and universities reported that, on average, close to 80% of their applicants choose to submit test scores. Another survey showed that more than 80% of students who took the SAT said they wanted the choice to send their scores.
Understanding test-optional policies can help you make informed decisions about whether to take the SAT, the ACT, or both. The most important point is that policies vary widely. Be sure to read each college’s policy carefully so you understand what you need to do to qualify for admission, scholarships, financial aid, etc.
Variations in Test-Optional Policies
Here are some possible variations in test score policies:
Example 1: Test-optional admissions policy for some
At some colleges, if your GPA or class rank meets the minimum requirements, you can decide not to submit SAT or ACT scores. Some applicants, like homeschooled or international students, are required to submit scores, regardless of GPA.
A rare variation of this is “test flexible.” This means you may be able to take a test other than the SAT or ACT, such as AP Exams, to meet the school’s requirements for admission. Even rarer is "test blind", which means the college won't look at test scores even if they are submitted.
Example 2: Test-optional admissions policy for all
In some cases, the college allows students to decide for themselves whether to submit test scores. Applicants are told, in essence, “if you think your scores are an accurate representation of your ability, feel free to submit them. If you feel they’re not, don’t.”
Example 3: Test optional for admissions, but required for enrollment or scholarships
Some colleges that are test-optional for admissions require SAT or ACT scores for other uses, such as academic counseling and placement, or for institutional research. Students who don’t submit their scores as part of their applications will be required to do so before arriving on campus.
Remember: Many schools that don’t require scores for admission still consider them when awarding merit scholarships. When in doubt, check with the school.
Which colleges don’t require the SAT or ACT?
The list of test-optional colleges is changing all the time, especially considering temporary policy changes in response to the coronavirus. Always check directly with the college to confirm their policy, either by going to its website or calling its admissions office.
Should I still take the SAT if all the colleges on my list are Test-Optional?
In short, yes. Most college admissions officers, including those at test-optional colleges, value the SAT as part of the admissions process. Even if you think standardized tests aren’t your biggest strength, there are some good reasons to take them:
- You’ll keep your options open. Most colleges still accept test scores, and most encourage them. Remember: Your college list isn’t set in stone: you can change it at any time.
- You’ll stand out among the applicants. If you get the score you hope for, and especially if it’s above average for the college, submitting your SAT score can help you in the admissions process. Even if your top-choice is one of the rare test-flexible colleges, you should still take the SAT. You may find you’ll do better on it than you have on the AP Exams or other alternatives that the college considers. And keep in mind that colleges consider test scores in context. Even if your scores aren’t above average for the college, if they’re high for your school or neighborhood, they’ll help you make a great impression.
- You could get more than just admission. At some colleges, the only criteria to be eligible for certain scholarships is a minimum SAT/ACT score and GPA. If you don’t take either of these tests, you take yourself out of the running for hundreds of thousands of dollars that could make college more affordable.
- A high SAT score can offset a low GPA. If you don’t take the SAT, colleges will have less information about your academic performance. If you have a low GPA but do well on the SAT, you’re letting colleges know you have the potential to succeed in college-level classes.
What if I’m not confident about taking the SAT?
We understand that not everyone feels great about taking tests, but there isn’t any downside to taking the SAT. If you don’t do as well as you want, the decision if and where to send your scores is completely up to you.
Remember, everyone’s situation is different, but we encourage you not to limit your choices. Give yourself every opportunity to succeed. Try taking the SAT. You can use free, personalized Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy to build your confidence and improve your scores. If you don’t do as well as you want, you can practice and try again. (Low-income eligible students can take the test twice at no cost.)
With a score in hand, you’ll be able to make the decision that’s best for you. If the score isn’t where you need it to be, if you don’t think it reflects your ability, or if it doesn’t strengthen your application—you don’t have to send it. It’ll still be ready and waiting if you need to submit it for placement or scholarships.