The Best Test-Optional Colleges

Schools With No SAT/ACT Requirement

The Best Test-Optional Colleges

September 13, 2021

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Over the last several years, more colleges and universities have moved away from requiring standardized test scores for admission, shifting instead to test-optional, test-flexible, and test-blind policies.

This trend emerged mostly due to criticism that the SAT and ACT discriminate against students of color and low-income students. Although research into how effective these policies really are varies, many test-optional schools report increasing diversity in both their applicant pools and their admittance of underrepresented groups.

Due to COVID-19, many colleges that previously required SAT/ACT scores adopted temporary test-optional policies for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 application seasons. Some schools, such as Caltech, even plan to suspend their testing requirements for the 2022-23 admissions cycle.

Other institutions, like the University of California system, have chosen to permanently end their SAT/ACT requirements.

What Does "Test-Optional" Mean?

Test-optional policies allow students to decide whether they want to submit their SAT or ACT scores with their application. In other words, test-optional colleges do not require standardized test scores as part of the admissions process.

When applying to test-optional schools, it's up to the student to determine whether their results accurately reflect their academic merit and will improve their chances of getting accepted.

Some schools have employed these policies temporarily in response to the pandemic, with plans to eventually reinstate SAT/ACT requirements. Others, meanwhile, have made a long-term switch. Currently, more than 1,000 institutions plan to stay test-optional permanently.

Top 30 Test-Optional Colleges for 2021-22

According to FairTest, over 1,700 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. currently have test-optional policies. Check with the individual college to confirm its testing policy before you apply.

School Location Test-Optional Policy
Brown University Providence, RI 2021-22 application cycle only
California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA Test-blind for 2021-22 and 2022-23 application cycles
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA 2021-22 application cycle only
Columbia University New York, NY 2021-22 application cycle only
Cornell University Ithaca, NY 2021-22 application cycle only
Dartmouth College Hanover, NH 2021-22 application cycle only
Duke University Durham, NC 2021-22 application cycle only
Emory University Atlanta, GA 2021-22 application cycle only
Harvard College Cambridge, MA 2021-22 application cycle only
Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD 2021-22 application cycle only
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA 2021-22 application cycle only
New York University New York, NY Test-flexible; test-optional for 2021-22 application cycle only
Northwestern University Evanston, IL 2021-22 application cycle only
Princeton University Princeton, NJ 2021-22 application cycle only
Rice University Houston, TX 2021-22 application cycle only
Stanford University Stanford, CT 2021-22 application cycle only
Tufts University Medford, MA 2021-22 and 2022-23 application cycles
University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, CA Test-blind
University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA Test-blind
University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, CA Test-blind
University of Chicago Chicago, IL All applicants
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 2021-22 application cycle only
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 2021-22 application cycle only
University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN 2021-22 and 2022-23 application cycles
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 2021-22 application cycle only
University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA 2021-22 and 2022-23 application cycles
University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA 2021-22 and 2022-23 application cycles
Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN 2021-22 application cycle only
Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, MO 2021-22 application cycle only
Yale University New Haven, CT 2021-22 application cycle only

Sources: FairTest and U.S. News & World Report

The 3 Types of Test-Optional Policies

Most colleges that maintain a test-optional policy use one of three types: test-optional for some applicants, test-optional for all applicants, and test-optional for admission only.

Test-Optional for All Applicants

This policy allows students who don't consider themselves strong test-takers to assemble their college applications without standardized test scores so they can draw focus to their other academic and extracurricular achievements.

Some schools permit students to choose whether they want to submit SAT/ACT scores, while others follow a test-blind policy, meaning they won't consider test scores from anyone, even if submitted. Test-blind colleges are normally quite rare, but the pandemic has led more institutions, such as Loyola University New Orleans, to adopt this policy.

Other schools that use test-blind policies include Northern Illinois University and Hampshire College.

Test-Optional for Certain Applicants

Some test-optional schools require SAT/ACT scores from students who fall below a certain GPA or class rank threshold. For example, prior to the pandemic, the California State University system used an "eligibility index" to determine which applicants must submit test scores.

Other test-optional colleges require SAT/ACT scores only from certain applicants, such as international, homeschooled, program-specific, and out-of-state applicants. Boise State University, for instance, requires test scores from nonresident homeschooled students.

Other colleges have test-flexible admissions policies. These schools still require students to send in test scores but allow for different options in place of the ACT or SAT, such as AP exams and IB exams. New York University uses a test-flexible policy.

It's important to research each institution's test-optional specifications, as some may still require SAT/ACT scores from international and/or homeschooled applicants.

Test-Optional for Admission but Not for Enrollment or Scholarships

When applying to test-optional schools, make sure you consider all possible consequences of withholding your SAT/ACT scores.

Though uncommon, some institutions, like Bowdoin College, require test scores for academic counseling and institutional research and to award merit aid. This means that these schools don't consider SAT/ACT scores for admission but do require them for enrollment and particular scholarships.


Feature Image: Chris Ryan / OJO Images / Getty Images

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