September 22, 2020 By Debbie Schwartz

Test-Optional Admissions: What You Need to Know for College Applications

Although COVID-19 has increased the number of schools employing test-optional admissions practices, the movement began in 1969 with Bowdoin College. Over the last 50 years, more and more colleges have followed their lead and they may not require prospective students to submit standardized test scores (such as the SAT or ACT).

There are a variety of terms related to test-taking and the admissions process. They often sound alike and can be confusing. We’ll break down:

  • what are test-optional admissions?
  • what test-required means
  • what test-blind means
  • what test-flexible means
  • how test-optional practices impact admissions and college prep

As of now, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), reports that for Fall 2021, 1,570-plus institutions have said it is optional to submit SAT/ACT scores with your college applications. Test-optional admissions could play an important role in your college application and planning process, especially for 2020-2021 admissions.

What are Test-Optional Admissions?

Test-optional admissions mean that it’s the student who decides whether they can or want to take and send their SAT and ACT results to a school. It’s important to note that schools do not require SAT and ACT scores, but students have the option to send it if they want it to be included in their application

If you’re homeschooled or an international student, you may be required to send test results regardless of whether the school is test-optional or not.

What Does Test-Required Mean?

When a school asks you to submit standardized tests, they are saying that tests are required for your college application to be considered for admission. Typically, colleges require SAT or ACT scores if tests are required.

What Does Test-Blind Mean?

Only a few schools in the country (30 as of June 2020) are test-blind. Test-blind means that admissions counselors won’t look at tests at all when considering a student for admissions.

What is Test-Flexible?

This is a school’s way of saying that they would like to see standardized test results, but they don’t need to be SAT or ACT scores. Schools that offer this provide a list of exactly what those tests can be—including, for example, AP exams, subject tests, and International Baccalaureate exam scores. Be sure to check with the schools you’re interested in for this information.

Why Should I Apply to a School that is Test-Optional?

This may be a good option for students who don’t test well or are unable to prepare for standardized tests for any number of reasons—from financial to the inability to access the tests or testing sites. Covid-19 has derailed testing dates in many regions. If you haven’t been able to fully prepare or take a standardized test due to Covid-19, this may be the best admission option for you.

However, every student has different strengths. Some test well and feel their test results are stronger than their GPA and other accomplishments. For these students, their SAT or ACT scores may be helpful for college admission.

How Does a College Make Selections Without Standardized Test Scores?

Supporters of test-required admissions say that colleges need a reliable way to compare students across the country. However, these tests are not the only way that admissions officers evaluate a student’s readiness for college and their suitability for a particular one.

Admissions counselors also look at GPA, letter grades, essays, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and more. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (or NACAC) says that the most important factor in admission decisions are high school grades, according to a 2019 survey of college admissions officers.

In a Facebook Live with Road2College, Todd Reinhart, vice-chancellor of enrollment for the University of Denver, said that several factors go into making student selections: “What we’re trying to do is admit people who are going to graduate. We’re obviously trying to shape a class, but the biggest job we have is looking at academic preparation and credentials to decide who’s most likely to persist and graduate. . . So, we’re really putting that four-year lens on our decisions.”

Does Test-Optional Impact Financial Aid?

According to the Princeton Review, more than 3.4 million high school students, mostly juniors and sophomores, take the PSAT nationwide every year. The results can trigger entry into the National Merit Scholarship Program, an academic competition. If a student decides not to take the PSAT, they would not be eligible to participate in the National Merit Scholarship program.

Some institutions are test-optional, but not for merit aid. Pay close attention when applying and be aware: There’s a difference between National Merit Scholarships and scholarships that are awarded by schools based on merit (and usually rely on test scores and GPA).

Check School Testing Requirements Long Before You Apply

To be sure you’ve taken the tests you need for the schools you’re most interested in, make sure you do your research in advance of the application deadlines so you can add tests if needed. Keep in mind that some schools that are currently test-blind, test-flexible, or test-optional may go back to testing-required.

Next Steps: After applying for college admission, you need to be aware of deadlines for applying for college financial aid. We’ve rounded up important financial aid deadlines you should know about.