SAT / ACT Scores Not Required: Test Optional Admissions Demystified

In my previous posts, I have written extensively on the subject of standardized testing, which is practically a rite of passage for teens intending to attend college in the United States. However, it would be remiss of me, in a discussion of standardized testing options, to fail to mention that SAT or ACT scores are not a hard-and-fast requirement for admission to American universities.

A growing number of schools have adopted “test optional” or “test flexible” policies over the years. While it is true that the majority of test optional schools are open enrollment institutions, which allow the vast majority of applicants to attend, an increasing number of competitive universities are choosing to de-emphasize SAT and ACT scores in their admissions processes. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), an advocacy group that campaigns against standardized testing, there are now some 840 accredited schools in the United States that offer flexibility in their testing requirements. Of these, about 180 institutions currently have a published US News & World Report ranking.

The movement against standardized testing seems to be gathering momentum. In the past year alone, over 30 schools have dropped their testing requirements – more than in any other year. Ever since George Washington University dropped its testing requirement for freshman applicants this July, I have received a flood of questions from parents and students wanting to know more about test optional colleges.

Read on to learn about the different policies in place and the many great colleges that have adopted them.

Firstly, why?

There is a growing belief among in some higher education circles that standardized tests scores do not predict which students will excel in the college environment. Indeed, we all know students whose standardized test results do not reflect their academic merit, and test optional colleges seem to be acknowledging this fact. In particular, many in higher education see standardized tests as a barrier to recruiting otherwise-qualified minority, first-generation and disadvantaged students, who cannot afford to take the SAT/ACT multiple times or sign up for expensive prep courses.

By de-emphasizing test scores, they say, admissions officers can look more holistically and comprehensively at each individual applicant’s academic merit and suitability for the institution.
However, critics say that colleges have less altruistic reasons for introducing test optional admissions. Namely, by dropping testing requirements, colleges can attract many more applicants, thereby lowering their acceptances rates and boosting their US News & World Report rankings.
Here is a look at the three most common testing policies adopted by schools looking to de-emphasize testing or offer applicants more options in their admissions processes:

Test flexible

Colleges with a “test flexible” policy require you to send test scores, but generally offer a variety of options in place of the SAT or ACT. Some schools might waive test requirements for certain applicants based on their class rank or grade point average, a common practice for in-state applications to the California State University and University of Texas systems.

Other schools will allow you to send AP test scores or SAT Subject Test scores in lieu of the SAT/ACT. Submitting these scores allows applicants to showcase mastery in their areas of academic interest, which might make a more compelling case for their admission than their SAT/ACT score.

Test flexible policies vary greatly from school to school, so it is important to check each college’s website to ensure you are fulfilling its requirements.

Test flexible schools to consider:

Colby College, Colorado College, Hamilton College, Middlebury College, New York University, Trinity College, University of Rochester

Test optional

Colleges with a “test optional” admissions policy allow you to decide whether you would like to submit standardized test scores. This leaves each you to decide whether your test scores are an accurate representation of your academic ability.

Test optional schools to consider:

American University, Bard College, Bates College, Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Franklin and Marshall College, George Washington University, Pitzer College, Smith College, Wake Forest University, Wesleyan University

Test blind

Currently, Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts is the only institution in the US to uphold a “test blind” admissions policy, meaning that it will return any standardized test scores it receives. Unlike “test optional” schools, Hampshire “will not consider SAT/ACT scores regardless of the score.”

The rise of test optional policies will come as a relief to those who are less-than-thrilled with their standardized test results. Awareness of test optional schools and programs can alleviate a great deal of the pressure on high school students, who often feel like a single number can dictate their futures.

Keep in mind, however, that the majority of colleges, particularly elite institutions, do still require and strongly consider SAT/ACT scores, and may even have additional testing requirements.