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What does Test Optional mean?

A college that is “test optional” will still consider SAT and ACT test scores as part of your application, but does not require that you submit them.  Schools that call themselves test optional still require many students to submit scores.  Check with the school to see if you may actually need test scores for these situations:

  • Scholarship consideration
  • Transfer students
  • International students
  • In-state tuition
  • Homeschooled students
  • Athletes
  • High school with unconventional grading

The easiest way to find these details is to call the admissions office directly.  There are only a handful of colleges that are “test blind,” meaning they do not review test scores at all.

Given the hardships with Covid-19, what other things may be optional with college admissions in 2020?

About the only uniformly required application component for 2020 is a high school transcript.  Many components that are typically required are optional for 2020.  The specifics vary by school, but here are some commonly waived requirements:

  • Grades for your classes, particularly if your school did not grade in the Spring of 2020.
  • Letters of recommendation
  • College essays
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Additional test scores (AP, IB, SAT Subject tests)
  • College visits and interviews
  • TOEFL for international applicants
  • Portfolios and other supplemental work

Since so many colleges are flexible with their admissions requirements, will it be easier to get in this year? 

No.  In my phone calls with college representatives across the country, university officials anticipate that admissions will be just as competitive if not more competitive than in past years.  The overall trend, particularly among selective schools, is to keep lowering the acceptance rate.  In 2006, for top ten schools, the acceptance rate was 16.0%.  Just 12 years later in 2018, the acceptance rate among top 10 schools was only 6.4%.[1]

Given how competitive admissions and scholarships have become, it is imperative that you provide as much information as possible about your academic and extracurricular qualifications in your application. The more competitive the school, the less likely something that is considered “optional” actually will be so.

Which students should submit test scores to test optional schools and which students should not bother?

  • If your ACT or SAT test scores are at least at the 25th percentile for admitted students, go ahead and submit them.

Approximately 80% of students who apply to test optional schools still submit their scores[2].  Colleges want as much information as they can have about your academic preparedness, so include your scores if they meet this threshold.

  • If your ACT or SAT scores are less than the 25th percentile for admitted students, do not submit them unless you need them for a scholarship or other requirement.
  • If you have not been able to take an ACT or SAT because of health and safety concerns related to Covid-19, then do not worry about submitting your scores. Be prepared to elaborate on why you were unable to take the ACT or SAT in your application.

The bottom line—even though many schools are test optional, to have the most competitive application, solid test scores are a major plus.

[1] https://www.businessstudent.com/topics/college-acceptance-rates-over-time/

[2] https://blog.collegeboard.org/what-is-a-test-optional-college#:~:text=In%20a%20recent%20survey%2C%20representatives,%2C%20the%20ACT%2C%20or%20both.