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Many colleges have adopted a test-optional policy either for the fall 2021 application cycle or permanently. However, the majority of colleges strongly suggest that students should still include test scores if they can. 

What Is a Test-Optional College?

Depending on the school, test-optional colleges may permit some or all students to submit their applications without providing SAT or ACT scores. Nonetheless, these colleges remain highly interested in seeing how well students can perform, and—as a recent College Board article notes—four out of every five students applying to test-optional schools (80 percent) still choose to submit their test scores. Policies also differ considerably between test-optional colleges, so it is crucial to seek further information on a college-by-college basis. This can be done by visiting colleges’ websites or calling their admissions departments. 

Differences in What “Test-Optional” Can Mean

In general, there are three categories of “test-optional” colleges: (1) those which have made tests optional for some applicants, (2) those which have made tests optional for all applicants, and (3) those which do not require test scores for admissions but may expect students to submit them for scholarships or enrollment.

Test-Optional for Some

Some colleges have said that if applicants’ GPAs meet certain standards, they are free to not include SAT or ACT scores with their application—with the notable exception of homeschool or international students, who will still have to submit test scores regardless of their GPA. 

Test-Optional for All

Other schools have decided to leave the decision of whether to submit test scores open to all students. In applying to these colleges, students are free to provide test results if they believe that they strengthen their application or to omit them if they do not. 

Tests Required Only for Scholarships and Enrollment

Finally, some colleges may consider test scores only for the purpose of providing scholarships and maintaining accurate enrollment data. In many cases, merit scholarships (for example) are awarded at least partly on the basis of SAT or ACT results. Some colleges may also require test scores later in the enrollment process: should students choose to attend a particular school, colleges may need these scores to provide academic counseling and for the purpose of internal research.   

Test-Flexible and Test-Blind Colleges

Finally, a small number of colleges have also declared that they are “test flexible” or “test blind”. If a college is test flexible, students may be able to submit scores from other exams—such as AP Exams or SAT Subject Tests—in lieu of ACT or SAT scores. The vanishingly small number of test-blind schools (four in the US at the time of this article) will not consider test scores even if they are submitted. 

How About the Colleges on My List?

Since the set of colleges that have declared themselves to be test-optional is continually changing, it is a good idea to check with each college on your list individually. As discussed above, this can be done by visiting its website or calling its admissions office.

Should I Still Take the ACT or SAT?

Yes. Here are four reasons:

  1.  There Are No DisadvantagesMost people taking the SAT or ACT at the same time as you will also have had fewer opportunities than usual to take the test (remember, SAT and ACT exams have been canceled across most areas of the country this spring). This means that you will not be at a disadvantage because you were not able to take the test as many times as you might wish to.
  2. It Can Help Differentiate You from Other ApplicantsStrong scores on the SAT or ACT can help you stand out from other applicants. This is particularly important if your GPA is relatively low.
  3. SAT and ACT Scores Are Crucial for ScholarshipsFor certain scholarships, some schools only consider your SAT or ACT scores and your GPA. Furthermore, taking the SAT or ACT allows you the opportunity to win scholarships through test providers themselves (e.g., the College Board Opportunity Scholarships).
  4. It Keeps your Options OpenIf you take the SAT or ACT and do not like your score, you are still free to not share it with colleges. However, not taking a college entrance exam means forgoing an important opportunity to impress colleges.

Despite the disruption caused by Covid-19, we therefore strongly recommend that you take the ACT or SAT when it becomes safe to do so. Studying for and taking these tests will likely increase your chances of getting in to your desired colleges and certainly expands your option set: while you are just as free to omit test scores if you take the ACT or SAT and do not like the results you receive, this choice will not be open to you if you decide not to take the tests at all.