Best Test-Optional Colleges and Universities | What Does “Test Optional” Mean?

What Does “Test Optional” Mean?

What do college admissions mean when they say they are test-optional?

While the specific requirement and definition varies from school to school, test optional generally means that students do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their application for admission to a particular school. You may submit test scores, but it is not required.

There are various reasons why colleges and universities opt for test-optional policy.

Some colleges waive the test requirement due to pandemic-related concerns, while others hope to emphasize more on the importance of holistic review by looking into a student’s overall academic performances as well as personal achievements beyond standardized test scores. 

In either case, test-optional colleges may work in your favor if you did not score as highly as you’d hoped for on the SAT or ACT. 

Generally speaking, there are three ways in which schools may not require standardized test scores as part of their admissions process.  

1. Test Optional

The first type of test-optional schools, by the literal definition, give you the choice of whether or not you want to share your SAT/ACT scores

For instance, if you are not confident about your SAT results, it may be better to withhold the score and showcase other strengths you have such as extracurricular activities and essays. On the other hand, if you do perform well on the test, it doesn’t hurt to highlight the high scores to further increase your chances of acceptance. 

One example of this is the University of Washington, where the standardized test requirement has been removed for all incoming undergraduate students beyond the fall of 2021. However, according to UW’s Office of Admissions, “high test scores (1400 SAT/31 ACT or above) may be considered for a handful of students who may not otherwise be admitted.” 

Here are some other test-optional colleges and universities for reference: 

University of Chicago
University of California (test-optional until 2024)
Arizona State University-Tempe
Wake Forest University
Brandeis University
Bowdoin College
Pitzer College
Bucknell University

2.Test Flexible

Test-flexible schools differ from the aforementioned test-optional colleges in that they allow you to choose which type of test to submit other than SAT/ACT. 

This may include an International Baccalaureate exam or Advanced Placement test. SAT Subject Tests were previously an option before the CollegeBoard discontinued them in January 2021. Of course, if you want to submit your SAT or ACT scores, it is certainly acceptable as well. 

New York University, for example, has one of the most flexible testing policies even before COVID-19. In addition to the alternative tests mentioned above, NYU also accepts GCSE/IGCSE/O Level Official Results Certificates for all exams taken. 

In addition to NYU, there are other well-known test-flexible schools such as Drexel University and the University of Rochester. 

3.Test Blind

For test-blind colleges, SAT/ACT test scores are not considered at all in the admission process, even if you submit them as part of your application. In other words, these schools believe that other aspects of your application serve as better indicators of whether or not you will succeed as a potential student. Recently there has been an increase in the number of test blind schools, though it is still quite uncommon. 

Some test blind schools include Washington State University, Hampshire College, and California Institute of Technology (test-blind through the Fall 2023). 

Class Rank/GPA Substitution

Some schools will automatically waive your SAT/ACT test requirement only if you meet your school’s required GPA or class rank. 

When you meet the GPA/class rank minimum as well as school-specific requirements (usually for in-state applicants), you will be admitted by default. Otherwise, you must include your SAT/ACT scores as part of your regular application. 

Typically, schools would like to see a ranking in the top 10% or a minimum 3.5 unweighted GPA. 

Some popular schools offering a class rank/GPA substitution policy include UT Austin (for Texas residents since late 1990s), Texas A&M, and Tulane (Louisiana resident only).