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Is Test-Optional Admissions Here to Stay?

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Before March 2020, college admissions decisions looked something like this:

SAT/ACT Scores + Grade Point Average + Extracurricular Activities = Admission

But since then, the admissions equation has changed for thousands of colleges and universities around the country due to the widespread impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

About 1,000 of the 2,300 private nonprofit and public colleges and universities offered students the option to apply without submitting SAT or ACT scores for Fall 2020 enrollment.

Nearly 1,700, or two-thirds of colleges and universities now operate with some form of test-optional or test-blind policy, according to FairTest.

Nearly 2 of every 3 colleges and universities have adopted a test-optional or test-blind policy.

ACT and SAT testing agencies have canceled or modified multiple testing dates since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and thousands of students registered for the ACT or SAT could not take the test due to testing center closures.

The bottom line: COVID-19 has changed how standardized testing occurs in the future, and all schools will handle it differently.

So will ACT and SAT testing go away completely?

Probably not, but the methods in which colleges and universities use standardized tests will.

What is Test Optional? 

Test optional is exactly what it sounds like: You can decide whether you want to submit test scores with your application.

Now, does this mean test-optional schools won’t look at your SAT and ACT scores if you submit them? No!

Admissions offices will likely look at them but zoom in on other factors they believe are stronger predictors of your potential to succeed in college.

However, schools have implemented other testing requirements other than test optional.

How Schools Have Handled Standardized Testing this Year

Colleges across the map have done different things regarding standardized testing this year. Here’s how various schools have handled the changes, from implementing test optional, test flexible and test blind

Option 1: Test Optional

Most test-optional schools consider SAT and ACT scores if they are submitted, in addition to:

  • Student essays
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Grades (GPA)
  • High school and any community college or other college coursework

Test optional gives you a chance to tailor your application. You can present yourself just about however you want and have a bit more control over what you submit to colleges.

Didn’t have a great ACT or SAT score? That’s OK.

However, you don’t get away with not submitting grades, essays, extracurricular activities and achievements—you still have to prove that you can do well at any college or university you apply to.

More than two-thirds of four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. will not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores for fall 2021 admission.

In fact, FairTest lists 1,650-plus accredited four-year colleges and universities with ACT/SAT optional testing policies for fall 2021 admission.

Option 2: Test Flexible 

You must send test scores to test-flexible institutions, but you can also submit other test scores in place of the SAT or ACT. For example, instead of the SAT or ACT, you can send scores from an SAT Subject Test, International Baccalaureate exam or Advanced Placement test.

Any legitimate test score will do in lieu of an actual ACT or SAT score.

Option 3: Test Blind

Do not send test scores to a test-blind institution.

Colleges will take a look at everything else, including essays, letters of recommendation and grades but will not look at test scores.

Note that some schools may require test scores for out-of-state or international students, may ask you to take a placement exam to determine your eligibility for certain classes and may ask for additional materials, such as additional letters of recommendation.


Find Out If Your Dream School Is Test Optional...

The Pros and Cons of Taking the ACT and/or SAT

You can find admissions experts who claim that standardized testing isn’t important at all, and others who believe it’s the cornerstone of predicting future success in college. Check out some pros and cons.

Pros to Standardized Testing

  • Standardized tests help predict first-year success, retention and ultimately, graduation.
  • Standardized tests help mediate high school grade inflation and different grading standards.
  • Testing does not worsen disparities for under-represented minority applicants and low-income students (according to some experts)

Cons to Standardized Testing

  • The ACT and SAT are just part of an applicant’s full application and shouldn’t be the primary factor when making college admissions decisions.
  • Some students don’t perform well on exams, thereby reducing their chances of getting into a college based on a four-hour test.
  • One standardized test doesn’t show a record of excellent performance over time.
  • A test doesn’t show a student’s intellectual or social engagement and impact in the community or in the classroom.
  • Success on standardized testing often depends on the degree of educational and social advantage a student has and standardized testing differs for underrepresented minority applicants and low-income students (also according to some experts)

How Will Test Optional and Other Policies Change?

For years, admissions professionals and families have questioned how standardized tests truly predict academic performance—and concerns about race and economic background have always cropped up.

COVID-19 encouraged college admissions offices to do something about these already-expressed concerns, particularly as ACT and SAT test center closures occurred across the country.

Standardized tests probably won’t go away completely, but their role in the admission process will definitely change.

Admissions offices will put less emphasis on test results and adopt a holistic process.

This process will examine students’ performance in the context of their own communities as well as their specific educational environment.  

Some schools, such as the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, have already committed to making their pandemic-induced test-optional policies permanent.

Check out Niche’s 2021 Best Test Optional Colleges among the 2021 Best Colleges. It ranks colleges that don’t require SAT or ACT scores for admission.

Due to many colleges updating admissions requirements as a result of the pandemic, please visit the college’s website for the most up-to-date requirements. 

Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!