What You Need to Know About Test-Optional Colleges

Test optional schools don't require standardized test scores.Bowdoin College was the first college in the U.S. to make the submission of standardized test scores (SAT/ACT) optional in 1969, but they were hardly trendsetters. It was not until forty some years later that over 800 other colleges and universities followed Bowdoin’s lead and are now either test optional or “test flexible”.

Understanding the test optional implications for both students and universities is important in deciding whether or not you should submit your scores.

Here’s what you need to know about test optional schools.

What does test optional really mean?

This seemingly simple phrase actually has different meanings at different schools. At places like Wake Forest and George Washington University, SAT/ACT scores are completely optional. The choice is yours!

At other schools, like Middlebury College and Hamilton College, there is a test-flexible policy. Students may send some combination of AP, SAT Subject Test, International Baccalaureate (IB), and others instead of SAT or ACT scores. This allows you to apply to very selective schools but pick and choose the test scores you want to show.

Who does the test optional policy benefit, the student or the college?

Test optional schools have significant benefits for both the college-bound applicant and the institution. Here’s how:

Benefits for Students

This is fairly obvious. There are students who, for one reason or another, do not shine on standardized tests. With test optional, they can present the best of themselves without the “blemish” of mediocre test scores. Students who work tirelessly in the classroom to achieve academic excellence but whose test scores do not match up, can apply without them.

Colleges get the chance to see you as more than a series of numbers (grades, test scores, etc.). If you underachieve on the SAT/ACT but excel in the classroom and your extracurricular activities, this may be a great option for you.

benefits for colleges and universities

There are a host of reasons colleges give for going test optional. The most common reason is that it allows colleges to select students holistically.  Colleges get to choose the best people to fill their class, not just the best test-takers.

According to a recent CNN Money article, “The thinking is that dropping the test requirement will encourage more low-income and minority students – who tend to score lower on the SAT –to apply.”

The benefits for the institution go well beyond this. Test-optional policies can help schools move up in the all-important world of college rankings. Colleges understand that, right or wrong, many families put great faith in college rankings as some measure of quality and success. Improving their standings in college rankings is an institutional goal at many schools. SAT and ACT scores are an important variable in those rankings. Making standardized test scores optional means that students with stronger scores are more likely to submit them while those with lower schools are less likely. Thus, it raises the institutional average, which is likely to improve the college’s overall ranking.

Additionally, applications for admission jumped nearly 30% this year for some colleges after announcing a test optional policy. So, test-optional policies definitely allow colleges to select students who may shine in areas other than on standardized tests while maintaining their selective credentials.

How do I know if I should submit my SAT or ACT score?

If you have a high SAT/ACT score, then you can (and probably should) submit it. Schools want to raise their averages. Scores in the top portion of their range are very likely to be admitted. Some experts say your score should be in the top half of a school’s range. However, others say your score should be in the top third of the range at particularly selective schools.

Beware that some test-optional schools will still require test scores to qualify for merit scholarships. Additionally, test scores may still be required of athletes at Division 1 and Division 2 levels.

You can find a complete list of test optional/test flexible policies at www.fairtest.org, but you should read each college’s website carefully for the exact details on each school’s policy.

But rest assured that no matter what, students who are not stellar standardized test-takers have significantly more options today than they did even a few years ago.

One thought on “What You Need to Know About Test-Optional Colleges”

  1. alex says:

    Will i still be able to get a scholarship in these schools without submitting SAT/ACT scores?

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