A Guide to Test-Optional Colleges

As you navigate the college application process, you may have heard the term “test-optional” in relation to SAT or ACT scores. Going Merry has compiled answers to common questions that students and parents have on how test-optional policies work, and how they impact you.

What does “test-optional” mean? 

Test-optional admissions policies allow students to choose whether or not to submit standardized test scores as part of their application. Students have the flexibility to decide if their test scores accurately reflect their academic abilities and whether including them in their application will strengthen their chance for admission. This also means students can opt out of taking the tests altogether. 

What are the different test-optional policies? 

Test-Optional for All Students: All applicants have the choice of submitting standardized test scores. No one is required to submit scores, but they can if they wish.

Test-Optional for Some Students: Some specific academic programs or applicants (like homeschooled students or international students) may still be required to submit test scores.

Test-Flexible: SAT or ACT scores can be submitted with this policy, but these schools typically accept other test scores as well, such as Advanced Placement (AP) exam results or International Baccalaureate (IB) scores. 

Test-Blind: Colleges do not consider standardized test scores whatsoever during the application process. Even if a student submits their scores, the college will not review or use them in their evaluation. 

Test-Optional with Scores Required for Scholarships: Some colleges might adopt a test-optional policy for general admission but still require standardized test scores if a student wants to be considered for merit-based scholarships. In this case, test scores are used solely for scholarship purposes, not for admission decisions.

Why did colleges choose to go test-optional? 

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted standardized testing schedules, making it difficult for many students to take the tests or submit scores. Test-optional policies were already being explored by many colleges before the pandemic, and the pandemic expedited the adoption of these policies. The growing movement towards test-optional policies reflects a commitment to a fairer and more comprehensive approach to evaluating applicants. The hope is that by going test-optional, colleges can attract a more diverse pool of applicants.

Many colleges believe that a student’s potential and abilities cannot be solely measured by a single test score. By eliminating test requirements, they can focus more on evaluating applicants based on their high school coursework, extracurricular involvement, essays, recommendations, and personal qualities.

 Which schools are test-optional? 

Here is a comprehensive list of all test-optional schools. According to Fairtest.org, who tracks this data, around 2,000 accredited, Bachelor’s degree granting universities are currently test-optional or test-free for students applying for Fall 2024. 

What percentage of students submit SAT/ACT scores? 

43% of applicants submitted entrance exam scores to Common App member institutions for the 2022-23 academic year. This is lower than the levels seen prior to the pandemic (for example, in 2019-20, nearly 75% of applicants sent colleges their assessment results). 

Should I submit my test scores? Will it hurt my applications if I do not submit test scores? 

The answer to this will depend on each student’s specific circumstance, so it’s best to discuss this with your high school counselor. It will vary based on which schools a student is applying to (how competitive is the school?), and the strength of a student’s overall application (what does your GPA look like?, how strong is your personal statement?).

If a student’s scores fall in or above the middle 50% at a prospective school, it may be beneficial to include test scores in your application. If not, it may have a detrimental effect on your application. Most schools publish their test scores percentiles somewhere on their website, so a quick Google search should help you find this! 

Charlotte Lau

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