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The Complete Guide to Test-Optional Colleges

Test-optional colleges are a relatively new phenomenon, and you may be wondering how exactly they work. Standardized tests have long been an integral part of the college application process, and it can be hard to imagine how it would work without them. However, tides are changing, and an increasing number of colleges are not requiring students to send test scores to apply.

Let’s get into what that change means for you. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the different types of test-optional colleges and help you decide whether they are a good fit for you.

Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

What is a test-optional college?

Test-optional colleges do not require students to send in standardized test scores, such as SAT/ACT scores, in order to apply. In these instances, they weigh grades, essays, and extracurriculars more heavily in place of the test scores.

Test optional policies are becoming increasingly popular, and were expedited greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools adopted test-optional policies in response to the difficulty involved in proctoring tests, but have since expressed a desire to maintain these policies indefinitely.

But test-optional is not the only type of test policy that has gained traction in recent years. Let’s discuss a few of the different test policies that some schools are adopting. For students who earn low scores on standardized tests, each and every of these options might be a great opportunity to help your college application better reflect your academic abilities.

Also see: Tips for reducing test taking anxiety

Types of test policies


As stated above, test-optional schools allow students to submit test scores, but they do not require them. So, they will factor test scores into admissions decisions for some students, but have pledged to act neutrally towards students who do not submit scores.

This is a great situation for students who are hesitant to submit their test scores. However, it has led some to question whether admissions officers really act objectively towards students who don’t submit any scores. Since high scores might still benefit some students, it’s hard to say whether students with no scores are left at a disadvantage.

The test-optional model is the one which has become overwhelmingly popular in recent years, and the following models are employed by a much lower number of schools.

Also see: Free SAT study resources


Test-blind schools do not accept test scores from any student. This means that no one will be at any sort of advantage or disadvantage due to their test scores. For students who are worried that withholding their scores puts them at a disadvantage, this can set your mind at ease.

By choosing to be test-blind, a school is making a bold decision. They are sending a message that they will emphasize a holistic view of their applicants which includes their grades, essays, and extracurriculars. 

Some notable test blind colleges are the entire Cal State and UC systems, Reed College, and Hampshire College. Some of these policies have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, whereas others are expressly permanent.

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Test flexible

Test flexible schools make up a small portion of schools with alternative testing policies. These schools allow you to submit scores from a list of approved standardized tests in place of your SAT/ACT scores. These can include AP scores, SAT Subject Tests, or more specialized exams. NYU is one of the most notable examples of this policy.

Class rank / GPA threshold

Some schools will allow you to forgo the submission of test scores only if you meet a minimum requirement in your GPA or class rank. This limit varies by school. So, if you excelled in your classes, you have a chance to apply to these schools without sending test scores.

How many colleges don’t require SAT/ACT test scores?

A surging number of schools are dropping their SAT/ACT test score requirements. As of fall 2022, the number exceeded 1,700 and if this trajectory continues, it will continue to rise. There is a chance that schools will begin to require tests again after their COVID-related regulations expire, but as things look now, this seems unlikely.

Should I send my test scores to test-optional schools?

Students applying to test-optional schools face a tough question: should I send my test scores to a test-optional school? Luckily, you have some valuable tools at your disposal to help figure out the answer.

You should only submit your scores to a school if you believe that they will help your application. The best way to determine this is to look up a test score breakdown of your potential school. If your scores are in the top 25% of their range of admitted students, you should definitely submit them. If they are in the top 40% or 50%, it might be a good idea to submit them as well.

Keep in mind that as test-optional policies continue to remain in place, admitted test scores will rise significantly at schools. Students with lower scores will withhold them from schools, which means that the averages will rise. As a result, these guidelines might change as the effects of test-optional policies continue to set in.

Additional resources for college admissions

As you investigate college options, make sure to check back with us for guidance on every step along the way. We can help you decide how many schools to apply to, and figure out your safety, match, and reach schools. And remember, at test-optional schools, essays are all the more important. Check out our guides on how to write an essay about yourself, and how to respond to the Common App prompts

We can also tell you what to include in a college application and what to omit. And finally, don’t forget to apply for scholarships throughout the process so you can afford all of your options. Good luck!