What Are Test-Optional Colleges and What Does That Mean for Applicants?

November 12, 2021
By AdmissionSight

What Are Test-Optional Colleges and What Does That Mean for Applicants?

Applying to college is a complicated process with a lot of moving parts. Applicants have to pull together seemingly countless documents to even be considered by a college. To make matters worse, every college to which you apply requires something slightly different than other schools. Although the college admissions process is a dynamic landscape that’s always undergoing new changes, one of the most recent topics of discussion is test-optional colleges.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on in-person test-taking spurred many schools to temporarily suspend the requirement for the 2021-2022 school year as students across the country couldn’t access testing facilities safely.

However, some colleges have decided to make this a more permanent move while others have done away with it. This mixed-bag leads to a lot of confusion among applicants who are hungry for some clarity in terms of what’s expected of them.

Here, we’re going to take a look at what it means to be a test-optional college, which schools are currently test-optional, and how applicants should respond. We’ll even take a look at some practical tips for improving your SAT and ACT scores. Let’s dive into it!

What does test-optional mean?

Test-optional colleges are those that don’t require students to submit ACT or SAT scores. Instead, they give the option of submitting a standardized test score to the applicants.

Test-optional colleges still allow applicants to turn in standardized test results if they wish and these scores will still be factored into consideration along with the rest of your application.

Students seriously taking an exam.

However, students that choose not to submit a standardized test score to a test-optional college won’t receive any penalty.

In the past, it was common for nearly every college and university throughout the United States to require students to include either an ACT or SAT score when submitting their application, and these standardized test scores were factored into a college’s decision to accept a student or not.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic reinvigorated the debate over the merit of requiring standardized test scores, the test-option movement has been around for decades.

What’s the difference between test-optional and test-flexible?

When doing your research for what universities require for applicants, you’ll probably come across the term test-flexible which can cause a lot of confusion because of its similarity to test-optional. It’s critical to understand the difference between these terms as it impacts what colleges require applicants to submit.

Test-optional colleges, as we just discussed, don’t require students to include a standardized test score with their application, but it is permitted if the student wishes to do so.

Students who submit an ACT or SAT score will have these tests factored into their admissions decision. However, applicants that opt not to submit these tests won’t be viewed as missing something.

A student's hand filling out an answer sheet with a pencil.

Test-flexible colleges, on the other hand, require students to submit a standardized test score but let the student decide between the SAT or ACT, depending on their personal strengths and preferences.

Test-flexible schools do take these scores into consideration when going through applications. Furthermore, an application to a test-flexible school is considered incomplete without a standardized test score.

In reality, most colleges and universities are test-flexible, giving students more control over their applications.

The test-optional movement has spread to more colleges over the past year but many of these, as we’ll explore later, are simply temporary precautions due to the inaccessibility of testing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pro Tip: It’s important to not get test-optional colleges mixed up with test-blind schools either. Test-blind means that a college or university doesn’t consider SAT or ACT scores even if applicants submit them.

What colleges are test-optional?

SAT & ACT Test-Optional Colleges for 2022-2023

  • Amherst
  • Adelphi University
  • Babson University
  • Barnard College
  • Baylor University
  • Boston University
  • Bucknell University
  • Cal State System (Test Blind through Spring 2023 with 2.5)
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Colgate University
  • College of Charleston
  • College of William & Mary
  • Davidson College
  • Drexel University
  • Elon University
  • Hamilton College
  • Haverford College
  • Indiana University – Blomington
  • Oberlin College and Conservatory
  • Oglethorpe University
  • Middlebury College
  • The University of Notre Dame
  • Pepperdine University
  • Penn State University
  • Rhodes College
  • Rhode Island School of Design
  • St. Louis University
  • Trinity University
  • Tufts University (3-year pilot)
  • Tulane University
  • University of California System (all campuses test blind)
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Southern California
  • Vassar College
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Virginia
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Williams College

Permanent Test-Optional Colleges

  • American University
  • Bard College
  • Bates College
  • Bennington College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Brandeis University
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Bucknell University
  • Clark University
  • Colby College
  • Colorado College (permanently test optional)
  • Connecticut College
  • Denison University
  • Dickinson College
  • Earlham College
  • Franklin and Marshall College
  • Furman University)
  • George Washington University
  • Gettysburg College
  • Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  • Knox College
  • Lawrence University
  • Lewis and Clark College
  • Macalester College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Muhlenberg College
  • Pitzer College
  • Sarah Lawrence College
  • Scripps College
  • Sewanee — University of the South
  • Skidmore College
  • Smith College
  • Trinity College
  • Union College
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Puget Sound
  • University of Rochester
  • University of San Diego
  • University of Washington, Seattle
  • Wake Forest University
  • Wesleyan University
  • Wheaton College
  • Whitman College
  • Willamette University

Test-Blind Colleges for 2022-2023

  • Alaska Pacific University
  • Amberton University
  • American Academy of Art College
  • Augsburg University
  • Boise State University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Catholic University California Baptist University
  • California State University
  • Cornell University
  • City University of New York system
  • Columbia College Chicago Dickinson College
  • Eastern Washington University
  • Fontbonne University
  • Hampshire College
  • Loyola University
  • Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
  • Merrimack College
  • Minerva Schools at KGI
  • Neumann University
  • NewU University
  • Northern Illinois University
  • Northern Kentucky University
  • Northern Michigan University
  • Pennsylvania College of Art & Design Pitzer College
  • Plymouth State University
  • Reed College
  • Saint Xavier University
  • Shippensburg University
  • St. Mary’s University (TX)
  • Stevenson University
  • Stonehill College
  • University of California system
  • University of Charleston (WV)
  • University of Lynchburg
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of New England
  • University of San Diego
  • Washington State University
  • Wells College Worcester Polytechnic Institute

What you should know about test-optional colleges.

They still consider submitted SAT or ACT scores.

As we just mentioned, test-optional doesn’t mean test-blind. Colleges and universities that claim standardized test scores are just an optional submission aren’t being as open and flexible as they might sound.

These colleges won’t penalize students for not submitting these scores, but admissions officers will certainly look at SAT and ACT scores if they are turned in with your application.

In other words, submitting an exam to a test-optional college can still give you a leg up on the competition since many applicants would choose not to put in the extra work of preparing for the SAT or ACT.

Admissions officers will scrutinize other parts of your application.

When comparing you to thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands of applicants, admissions officers need to use any piece of information and data they can get their hands on. That’s why colleges require so many different documents and records from applicants.

Each requirement is designed to give colleges a deeper understanding of you, your strengths, your personality, your academic goals, and much more.

As a result, test-optional colleges will have to look closer at other parts of your application when you don’t submit an SAT or ACT score because they have one less thing to consider. Just keep this in mind when preparing the rest of your application. Make sure everything is top-notch!

Test-optional specifics vary between each school.

To make matters even more confusing for students, the specific policies of test-optional colleges can vary between each school. For example, some colleges might calculate your test-optional candidacy based on your GPA, class rank, and other factors.

Other colleges could request additional documents or materials to supplement the rest of your application in lieu of a test score such as additional letters of recommendation or other academic work.

Still, some schools are test-optional for in-state schools while requiring these exams for international or out-of-state applicants based on the major they’re pursuing.

Standardized test scores could be required for merit scholarships.

Many colleges and universities offer scholarships to incoming students based on academic performance. This can include your GPA and standardized test scores or either one individually.

Even a test-optional school might offer these merit-based scholarships which means you’ll only qualify if you choose to submit an ACT or SAT test score.

With the price of higher education continuing to grow each and every year, high schoolers should take advantage of every financial assistance opportunity available, especially when they’re being offered by the university to which you’re applying.

There are even merit-based scholarships offered by private institutions and other organizations unaffiliated with schools.

Three students seriously taking the exam in their respected seats.

Before you take the time to apply for a scholarship, you should take the time to make sure you understand all of the requirements. You’d hate to dedicate energy to a certain scholarship only to realize you can’t even qualify either because of your age, family income level, or other metrics.

Taking the SAT or ACT will automatically check off this common merit-based scholarship requirement so you don’t have to worry about it later down the road.

Yes, taking a standardized test eats up a bit of your time and costs some money, but this small investment is nothing compared to the financial benefit of a scholarship.

How do you know which schools are test-optional?

With more than 4,000 universities and colleges in the US, it can be daunting to determine the test requirements for each of the schools you want to apply to. At AdmissionSight, we’re all about simplifying the college admissions process for students.

Three students in a classroom with seats aligned are seated and looking at their respective notebooks.

That’s why we’ve compiled this exhaustive list of the test-optional policies of some of the country’s most popular colleges. Simply search for your school’s name and read about their updated test requirement policies.

The best-kept secret to getting into the college of your dreams.

Trying to determine which schools are test-optional colleges and which aren’t is just one consideration you have to make when applying to college. The entire admissions process is fraught with complexities, confusion, and ambiguity.

At AdmissionSight, we’re committed to helping students just like you make sense of this crucial process. We have a proven track record of success with three out of every four of the students we work with getting accepted into a Top 10 college or Ivy League school. You could be next!

We offer a wide range of services specifically designed to provide some clarity on the college admissions process and what’s expected of students while helping high schoolers put together the best application possible to ensure admissions officers take notice.

Whether you need professional assistance choosing your high school courses or extracurricular activities, preparing for standardized tests, writing your college essay, or anything else required for college admissions, we’ve got you covered! Feel free to contact us to set up a free consultation.



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