College Planning

What Is a Test-Optional College?

First: Your health and safety are our top concern. We know that many of you and your families are facing serious challenges because of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Please take care of yourselves so you can be ready to take on the world when it’s safe to do so.

Second: We also know you may be anxious about how the coronavirus will affect your college application process. This is completely understandable. However, it may ease your mind to remember that everyone in your graduating class is in the same boat. Don’t let the fact that you haven’t had a chance to take the SAT yet add to your worries.

Test Scores and College Applications

Many colleges have decided to adopt a “test-optional” policy regarding college entrance exams, either temporarily (for Fall 2021 admissions) or permanently. Most still encourage students to submit their scores when they can, but they don’t require all students to do so in every instance.

The College Board supports these decisions, especially now. With colleges and universities across the U.S., we will be flexible and innovative during these unprecedented circumstances.

Here’s how:

  • We’re adding new U.S. and international test dates in response to canceled test dates.
  • We’ll be flexible in making the SAT available both in and out of school to give all students the opportunity to test as soon as the public health situation allows. Throughout, we'll continue to place a special focus on students with fee waivers and those accommodations. 
  • We’ll post new SAT test dates and other important SAT information on our dedicated SAT Coronavirus Updates page.

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’ performance and potential—but if a student doesn’t submit their scores, it won’t be considered 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.

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 SAT Subject Tests™ or AP Exams, to meet the school’s requirements for admission. Even rarer with only 2 colleges in the U.S. having this policy 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.

 

Test-Optional FAQs

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 when the public health situation allows?

In short, yes. Even if you couldn’t take the SAT this spring, remember that most of your graduating class is in the same boat. We’ll keep you posted about opportunities to test, and you should consider doing so when you can. 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. Every college accepts 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 SAT Subject Tests, 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. The College Board Opportunity Scholarships don’t even require a minimum SAT score to earn a shot at $1,000. You just need to take the SAT and get 100 points higher than you did on the PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT or a previous SAT. Do that, and you’ll also be on your way to qualifying for a $40,000 scholarship.
  • 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.