4 Things to Know Before Applying to a Test-Optional College

Did you know that there are over 1,830 colleges and universities that have switched to test-optional over the last few years? According to Forbes, many of these schools did so to help combat the effects of COVID, but as COVID cases have been on a drastic decline schools are standing by this policy for a multitude of reasons. These universities recognize that standardized tests alone do not fully represent a student’s abilities, talents, and/or potential. Also, test-optional policies are a way to help students who lack access or affordability to test prep courses and tutors.

4 Things to Know Before Applying to a Test-Optional College

So, what does the term ‘test-optional’ really mean for you as a student? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like- each applicant gets to choose whether or not to submit their ACT or SAT scores. In other words, it is not a requirement for that particular institution. But before choosing to submit or not submit your standardized test scores, here are four things you should know:

1. Test-optional policies differ from institution to institution.

Before skipping out entirely on taking the ACT or SAT be sure to know the test-optional policies at the schools you’re interested in because not every school is the same. For example:

  • A university may be test-optional, but they will require that you maintain a certain GPA to show your academic abilities.
  • Some universities require test scores for out-of-state, homeschooled, or international applicants, or for students pursuing certain majors.
  • A university may require additional materials, like additional letters of recommendation.
  • Many universities award merit scholarships on your standardized test scores. Be sure to check scholarship requirements before applying.

2. Other components of your application will be considered more closely.

If you choose to not submit your test scores, your application profile should still be strong enough to support the case that you can flourish on their campus and in their community. College admissions committees will look at extracurriculars, grades, rigor of coursework, essays, etc. with more scrutiny. Be sure that your profile is compelling and without test scores you will be a standout applicant.

3. Check the institution’s middle 50% standardized test scores.

When I am discussing the option of whether or not my students should submit their ACT or SAT scores we always check the admitted student middle 50% at each school they choose to apply. This is a good indicator if you are just not sure if you should submit your scores. For example, Duke’s SAT middle 50% for the admitted class of 2026 is 1510-1570. If your SAT score is 1460 you would not want to submit, but if your score is 1530 you would want to submit your scores. This is a very basic level, so my students and I will discuss every piece of their application before making a final decision, however.

4. Know the difference between test-optional, test-flexible, and test-blind.

  • Test-optional: As stated above this provides you the opportunity to decide whether or not you choose to submit your ACT or SAT scores.
  • Test-flexible: Standardized test scores are not required and can be replaced with AP or IB exam scores to meet the standard of admission.
  • Test-blind: This is pretty rare in college admissions. This means that colleges will not look at your scores even if you choose to submit them. This is where a compelling profile is extremely important. The UC system is test blind.

If you choose to apply test-optional, be sure that you have crafted an application that will stand out to the admissions committee reading your application, and that you have done your research. Check out How to Improve Your College Application. The college admissions process can be stressful and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. So why not ask for help!? Contact us today to help put your student at ease.

Former Admissions Counselor at Washington University in St. Louis
Former Admissions Reader at Washington University in St. Louis
Former Transfer Admissions Counselor at Lindenwood University

4 years in Washington University Admissions
1 year in Lindenwood University Admissions
2,000+ Applications Read & Evaluated

Haley, a B.S. graduate in Communication from Millikin University, transitioned from finance to higher education. At Washington University, she evaluated applications for all undergraduate schools and various scholarship programs. As a first-generation college student, Haley deeply understands the challenges of the college application process and is committed to making it more accessible and less daunting for others.

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