Should You Send SAT/ACT Scores to Test-Optional Schools?

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Should You Send SAT/ACT Scores to Test-Optional Schools?
portrait of Tyler Epps
by Tyler Epps
Published on October 20, 2021


While the pandemic has contributed to a surge in test-optional policies at colleges across the U.S., flexible testing policies have been gaining traction for some time. In September 2019, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than 1,000 colleges were already test-optional.

Now, over 1,700 four-year colleges and universities have test-optional policies for the 2021-22 application cycle. While it remains to be seen if this policy becomes the norm, many high school students wonder whether it's worth sending test scores to these colleges.

When to Send SAT/ACT Scores to Test-Optional Colleges

Here are four scenarios in which it's generally better to send your SAT/ACT scores than it is to withhold them.

You're Applying to Highly Selective Schools

If you're applying to highly selective test-optional colleges (i.e., schools with an acceptance rate below 30%) and you earned SAT/ACT scores in the schools' middle 50% ranges (or higher), you should strongly consider submitting your scores to maximize your chances of getting admitted.

They're Required for Merit-Based Aid

Some test-optional schools still require SAT/ACT scores for merit-based aid. If you're applying for any merit-based scholarships, check with each school directly about this — omitting these scores may exclude you from or put you at a disadvantage for prizes.

You Fall in or Above the Middle 50%

Many colleges publish SAT/ACT score percentiles for admitted and/or enrolled students. If your scores fall in or above the middle 50% at a prospective school, you'll likely benefit from submitting your scores.

The Rest of Your Application Is Less Impressive

If the other components of your college application are limited (maybe personal essays aren't your strong suit), you should consider submitting your SAT/ACT scores if they fall somewhere within the school's middle 50% — even if they're on the lower end.

When NOT to Send SAT/ACT Scores to Test-Optional Colleges

Even though it's often a good idea to submit your test scores to test-optional colleges, here are some scenarios in which you may be better off withholding them.

Your Scores Aren't Up to Par

If you're not a strong test-taker or simply feel your standardized test scores fail to accurately reflect your academic abilities, you may want to omit them. Note that because the school will have less information to use when making an admission decision, your other application components should work together to effectively highlight your biggest strengths.

You Fall Well Below the Middle 50%

Even if you're generally satisfied with your SAT/ACT scores, if they fall well below your school's middle 50% range, it may be better to withhold them so they don't count against you in the admissions process.

Should Students Take the SAT in Fall 2021?

With over 1,700 colleges shifting to test-optional policies, the future of standardized testing is uncertain. You may wonder whether there's any benefit in registering for the fall SAT or ACT, especially if your prospective college has recently gone test-optional.

Despite a majority of colleges adopting test-optional policies for the 2021-22 application cycle, students with the ability to safely take the SAT or ACT should consider doing so.

Students with too few extracurriculars or a low GPA may be able to use their test scores to strengthen an otherwise limited application. Those whose high SAT or ACT scores can bolster their academic achievements should ensure they maintain an edge in the admissions process.

Even though test-optional colleges maintain that they do not view applications without standardized test scores in a negative light, many admissions experts suggest that submitting SAT/ACT scores can ultimately add value to a student's application.


Feature Image: PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

Students usually take the SAT/ACT to get into college, but more schools are going test-optional — some long-term, and some temporarily due to COVID-19. Many high school students struggle to choose between the SAT and ACT. Discover the exams' biggest differences and which to take based on your unique strengths. Entrance exams, such as the SAT and ACT, are a crucial step in preparing for college. Learn what to expect and how to prepare.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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