The Best Test-Optional Colleges

Colleges With No SAT or ACT Requirements

The Best Test-Optional Colleges
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By Tyler Epps

Published on July 22, 2020

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Over the last several years, an increasing number of U.S. colleges and universities have moved away from requiring standardized test scores for admission, shifting instead to test-optional and test-flexible policies.

This trend emerged mostly due to criticisms that the SAT and ACT discriminate against minority 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.

With the coronavirus limiting SAT and ACT test dates, colleges and universities that previously required test scores are now reconsidering their admission requirements. A number of schools have opted to temporarily waive SAT/ACT requirements for the 2020-21 application season.

The Best Test-Optional Colleges in the U.S.

National Universities Regional Universities — North Regional Universities — South Regional Universities — Midwest Regional Universities — West

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 are deploying these policies temporarily in response to COVID-19, with plans to eventually reinstate SAT/ACT requirements, whereas others have made a long-term switch. Currently, more than 1,000 institutions plan to stay test-optional permanently.

The 3 Types of Test-Optional Policies

Test-Optional for Some Students SAT/ACT scores are only required from applicants who do not meet GPA/class rank requirements or some other eligibility criteria.
Test-Optional for All Students SAT/ACT scores are not required, but may be submitted if desired.
Test-Optional for Admission, but Not for Enrollment or Scholarships SAT/ACT scores are only required for enrollment and/or scholarships, not admission.

1. Test-Optional Admissions for Some Students

Though most colleges with test-optional admission policies do not require students to submit SAT/ACT scores, some schools require them from applicants who fall below a certain GPA or class rank threshold.

Prior to the pandemic, the California State University (CSU) system, which enrolls nearly half a million students, adopted this practice and implemented it across its campuses. CSU's policy relies on an "eligibility index" to determine which applicants must submit test scores. Under this policy, in-state and out-of-state applicants may omit standardized test scores from their applications if they earned a minimum 3.0 and 3.6 GPA, respectively.

Due to mounting pressures brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, however, the CSU system, as well as the University of California system, has since dropped these minimum GPA requirements for fall 2020 applicants.

Some test-optional schools require SAT/ACT scores from certain types of applicants, such as international and homeschooled students.

Some test-optional schools require SAT/ACT scores from certain types of applicants, such as international, homeschooled, program-specific, and out-of-state students.

Both Carthage College and the University of Southern Maine use test-optional admissions (except for students applying to nursing programs). Carthage also requires standardized test scores from English as a second language (ESL) and homeschooled students.

Other colleges have implemented test-flexible admission policies. These schools still require students to send test scores but allow for different options in place of the ACT or SAT, such as Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate exams, and SAT Subject Tests.

New York University, Colorado College, and Middlebury College are just some of the colleges that employ a test-flexible policy. Nevertheless, it's important to research each institution's test-optional specifications, as some schools, such as Colorado College, still require SAT/ACT scores from international and homeschooled applicants.

2. Test-Optional Admissions for All Students

While some colleges have additional requirements in place for applicants to meet test-optional eligibility, other schools follow a "test-optional for all" admissions process.

This policy allows students who don't consider themselves strong test takers to purposefully assemble their 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 test scores, whereas others refuse to consider scores at all.

Test-blind policies are similar but forbid all students from submitting exam scores. Colleges with test-blind admission policies do not consider SAT or ACT scores from any student, even if they're submitted with the student's application. While these schools are normally quite rare, the coronavirus has led some institutions, such as Caltech and Loyola University New Orleans, to administer this policy.

Schools that used test-blind policies prior to the pandemic include Northern Illinois University and Hampshire College. Along with not considering test scores for admission, Northern Illinois University refuses to look at scores for merit scholarships.

3. 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 or ACT scores for admittance purposes but do require them for enrollment and certain scholarships.

Every college sets its own rules for test scores, so it's best to follow up with each of your prospective schools to ensure you have access to all educational resources and aid.

Several high school students take a test at their respective desks in a classroom.

Top 15 National Test-Optional Universities

School Location
1. Princeton University Princeton, NJ
2. Harvard College Cambridge, MA
3. Columbia University New York, NY
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA
5. Yale University New Haven, CT
6. Stanford University Stanford, CA
7. University of Chicago Chicago, IL
8. University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
9. Northwestern University Evanston, IL
10. Duke University Durham, NC
11. Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
12. California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA
13. Dartmouth College Hanover, NH
14. Brown University Providence, RI
15. University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN

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

Top 10 Regional Test-Optional Universities — North

School Location
1. Providence College Providence, RI
2. Bentley University Waltham, MA
3. Fairfield University Fairfield, CT
4. Loyola University Maryland Baltimore, MD
5. University of Scranton Scranton, PA
6. Bryant University Smithfield, RI
7. Emerson College Boston, MA
8. Ithaca College Ithaca, NY
9. Marist College Poughkeepsie, NY
10. Saint Joseph's University Philadelphia, PA

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

Top 10 Regional Test-Optional Universities — South

School Location
1. Rollins College Winter Park, FL
2. James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA
3. Berry College Mount Berry, GA
4. Stetson University DeLand, FL
5. Christopher Newport University Newport News, VA
6. College of Charleston Charleston, SC
7. Asbury University Wilmore, KY
8. Florida Southern College Lakeland, FL
9. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach, FL
10. Queens University of Charlotte Charlotte, NC

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

Top 10 Regional Test-Optional Universities — Midwest

School Location
1. Butler University Indianapolis, IN
2. Bradley University Peoria, IL
3. Xavier University Cincinnati, OH
4. University of Evansville Evansville, IN
5. Augustana University Sioux Falls, SD
6. Baldwin Wallace University Berea, OH
7. Dominican University River Forest, IL
8. Nebraska Wesleyan University Lincoln, NE
9. Augsburg University Minneapolis, MN
10. Rockhurst University Kansas City, MO

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

Top 10 Regional Test-Optional Universities — West

School Location
1. Trinity University San Antonio, TX
2. Whitworth University Spokane, WA
3. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo, CA
4. Mills College Oakland, CA
5. University of Dallas Irving, TX
6. St. Edward's University Austin, TX
7. California Lutheran University Thousand Oaks, CA
8. St. Mary's University San Antonio, TX
9. Abilene Christian University Abilene, TX
10. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona Pomona, CA

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

When to Send Scores to Test-Optional Colleges

If you're applying to very selective test-optional colleges (<30% acceptance rate) and earned SAT/ACT scores around their median ranges, you should strongly consider submitting your results to maximize your chances of enrollment. Some test-optional schools still require SAT/ACT scores for merit aid. If you're applying for any merit-based scholarships, check with each school since omitting these scores may exclude you from or put you at a disadvantage for top prizes. Many colleges publish SAT and ACT score percentiles for their enrolled students. If your scores fall in or above the 50th percentile of your prospective school's average admitted student, you should submit your test scores. If other components of your application are limited or essays aren't your strong suit, consider submitting any score that falls around the school's midpoint, even if it's at the lower end.

When to Not Send Scores to Test-Optional Colleges

If you're a poor test taker and feel your standardized test scores don't accurately reflect your academic abilities, you may want to omit them. Note that because the school will have less information to use when making its admission decision, your other application components should work together well to highlight your strengths. If you're part of an underrepresented minority group and earned test scores well below a college's median range, consider omitting them from your application and placing a greater emphasis on other materials, such as your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities. If your test scores fall significantly below your school's 50th percentile and you're worried they'll reflect poorly on the rest of your application, consider withholding them.

A female high school student with long blond hair takes an exam at her desk at school.

Should Students Take the SAT This Fall?

With over 1,200 colleges shifting to test-optional policies, the future of standardized testing requirements remains far from certain. Many students wonder whether there's any benefit in registering for fall SAT/ACT exams, especially if their prospective college has recently gone test-optional.

Despite a majority of colleges temporarily adopting test-optional policies for the fall 2020 application cycle, students with the ability to take the SAT or ACT should still consider doing it.

Students with too few extracurriculars or low GPAs can use their test scores to strengthen their applications.

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

Even though test-optional colleges remain firm in their stance 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.

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