Achieving high SAT and ACT scores for admissions has always been a crucial step in applying for college. For some students, however, these testing requirements can be extremely daunting.
After all, do SAT and ACT scores predict your ability to earn a bachelor of liberal arts? Probably not.
After receiving subpar SAT and ACT scores, you would probably prefer not to submit scores at all than show off your less than perfect record. What if we told you that was an option? With test optional schools, mandatory exams are becoming a thing of the past.
What Are Test Optional Schools?
Test optional schools are colleges and universities where students can apply and attend without submitting test scores. This can be a godsend for those students who have received less than ideal SAT and ACT scores.
The good news is that test optional schools are becoming more prevalent in the United States.
Different Types of Test Optional Schools
While there is a lot more freedom with test optional colleges, the policies aren’t always black and white, and the specific submission requirements for admitted students vary from college to college. When picking a school that doesn’t require SAT or ACT scores, you need to distinguish between test optional, test blind, and test flexible colleges.
Test optional is when a school doesn’t require an applicant to submit scores for admission. While you can absolutely have SAT and ACT scores at the ready, they aren’t necessary for a fair shot at getting into the college of your dreams.
It is important to note that for test optional schools, your high school academic record serves as the substitute in determining your shot at getting accepted. If you are a good student with excellent grades but aren’t thrilled with your SAT and ACT scores, this is a great alternative.
Test blind colleges are schools that don’t require test scores for admission at all. In fact, many won’t even consider submitted scores in the admissions process. This means that, however poorly you might have scored on one of the standardized tests, it essentially doesn’t matter. Places like community colleges are, by default, test blind institutions.
Test flexible schools accept other test scores in place of SAT and ACT scores. This means that some schools will look at tests like SAT subject tests, your AP exam scores in high school, or some other aptitude test.
For stellar high school students, test flexible schools are an extremely attractive option. You can show off your impressive scores in your strongest subjects without worrying about SAT and ACT scores.
Where Can I Find Test Optional Colleges?
FairTest.org is a fantastic website consisting of all of the current test optional colleges. There you can find all of the applicable colleges, organized by region and national ranking. So far, FairTest has added over 920 schools to its list of test optional colleges for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.
Using FairTest’s excellent list of colleges and research universities, we’ve made our very own list of some of the best test optional colleges for you to consider.
The Top Test Optional Colleges
Below is our list of some of the most notable test optional colleges to apply to right now.
Bowdoin College is a significant test optional college. It has been a trailblazing institution in the progressive movement toward test optional admissions, having had the policy since the late 1960s. It has stood by its decision and accepts students based on high school grades and other accomplishments.
Many students who apply to Bowdoin College opt out of testing, but only homeschooled students need some sort of SAT and ACT score to help determine their readiness for college.
Additionally, Bowdoin College isn’t a pushover in terms of quality: its acceptance rate is still relatively low, even without standardized test scores. Out of the nearly 10,000 applicants in the 2023 class, it had an acceptance rate of 8.9 percent. Thirty-one percent of the 2023 class chose to apply without tests.
University of Chicago
According to the US News and World Report, Chicago University isn’t merely one of the best test optional colleges, but also one of the top-rated national universities.
The University of Chicago doesn’t require students to submit SAT and ACT scores, which gives everyone a fairer shake in the admissions process.
This is an excellent test optional college, as it extends the policy to everyone: international students, those who have never taken the SAT and ACT, and everyone in-between. Furthermore, the University of Chicago has increased the flexibility of its test optional policies since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The university welcomes those who have completed the SAT and ACT and have strong scores to submit them if they so choose.
Lewis & Clark College
Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, has had a test optional policy for 30 years. The test optional college encourages students to pull from an effective academic portfolio rather than define themselves and their work output through SAT and ACT scores. Very rarely do these scores determine your learning abilities, and Lewis & Clark College understands this.
Those who want to forego test scores in the admissions process at Lewis & Clark College must instead submit analytical writing pieces, research materials, or other meaningful aspects of their high school or past higher education portfolio.
A pivotal element to earning admission to Lewis & Clark College is at least two academic recommendations from teachers or professors. Test optional doesn’t mean that colleges won’t have high standards, as Lewis & Clark College’s list of alternative requirements shows.
Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Brandeis University has been a test optional college since 2013. Its admissions process is surprisingly flexible, allowing high school students and adult learners to submit various substitutes for traditional SAT and SAT test scores.
For example, Brandeis’ official test-optional policy permits students to submit SAT subject tests, AP exams, and IB (International Baccalaureate) exams instead. While these various SAT and ACT substitutes may seem daunting, some students may find them preferable to the famous standardized tests.
Brandeis’ admissions process also accepts writings from high school students’ junior and senior years in place of SAT and ACT scores.
New York University
Yes, the famous NYU is a test flexible college. NYU accepts all sorts of official tests, having officially become a test flexible college in 2009. This means that potential students don’t need to depend on SAT and ACT scores in the admissions process.
Students will still need to submit alternatives like a selection of SAT subject tests or AP exams from high school. Being test flexible is an excellent way for students with less than stellar test scores to receive a world-class education at one of New York’s most illustrious universities.
Do I Even Need to Take the SAT and ACT?
With all of these more flexible options, it is tempting to ignore taking tests like the SAT and ACT. However, we highly recommend still studying for the ACT and SAT.
There are some fantastic SAT prep classes, study resources, tutors, and learning materials at your fingertips. While some may be hesitant to take these tests, they are a vital step in earning your future degree.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Even at test optional colleges, SAT and ACT scores can’t hurt your chances.
Final Word on the Best Test Optional Colleges
Our list illustrates the bright new reality that you don’t need stellar test scores to apply for some of the most impressive universities and colleges in the nation. While having great SAT and ACT scores always helps your academic portfolio, these test optional colleges allow for everyone to achieve a certain level of education without having to sweat out the SAT.
While this trend grows every year, it is important to remember that the SAT and ACT aren’t going anywhere. These tests will continue to open up many opportunities for determined students. The rise of test optional colleges simply extends more of the same opportunities to those who have trouble taking tests.
SAT and ACT scores don’t define who you are, how you learn, or how smart you are. Those who aren’t the best at standardized tests, but are determined to succeed, finally have a practical alternative for getting into their colleges of choice.
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