Bowdoin College was the first to offer applicants the option of submitting SAT or ACT scores in 1969, but they were hardly trend setters. It was fifty years later that over 1000 other colleges and universities followed their lead and are now either test optional or “test flexible.”
The latest to join the list is the University of Chicago announcing on Thursday, June 14, 2018, that they would no longer require American undergraduate applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, making it the first top ten university to join the growing list.
Several liberal arts colleges and a few top-tier research universities have already taken the step, but the University of Chicago decision (ranked #3 in the U.S. News & World Report’s national university rankings) signifies a watershed moment in college admissions.
Reasons cited by colleges and universities who have gone test-optional is the lack of confidence in the SAT and ACT ability to predict college success and interest in attracting a broader range of applicants. A recent study conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling involving 28 colleges saw a significant increase in applicants once test optional was adopted, 29% for private and 11% for public institutions. William C. Hiss, former dean of admissions at Bates College, in 2014 published a study of 33 private and public test-optional colleges and universities. Of 123,000 students, 30 percent were admitted without submitting test scores. There was no significant difference noted between those who did not submit scores and those who did in graduation rates (0.6 percent lower did not submit) or cumulative GPA (2.83 did not submit, 2.88 submitted test scores).
If you are considering applying to test-optional colleges and universities, begin by checking the National Center for Fair and Open Testing database, known as FairTest at fairtest.org. Pay careful attention to the institution requirements as some only allow this choice if you meet certain GPA or other requirements. The list also includes "test-flexible" schools that allow you to submit other exam scores like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate subject test scores in place of the SAT and ACT.
If you do not submit scores, the admissions committee will emphasize other attributes within your application for evidence of potential for academic success which will include curriculum rigor, course grades, GPA and other exam scores. Research your college choices, and if you find that your test results fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median at more inclusive institutions, you may decide not to submit your scores.
But remember - most top universities will require test scores and you will be required to take the SAT or ACT. The fact that some universities are moving away from such tests will likely not have any effect on admissions for at least the next five years. Therefore, if applying to the nation's best universities, make sure to be prepared for all tests. To learn more about preparing for the SAT/ACT, click here to learn more about Hillview Prep.