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Anika Manzoor

Test-Optional Colleges: What You Need to Know (Video)

close up of a scantron with a mechanical and wooden pencil next to an SAT prep book to represent the transition to test-optional colleges -magoosh

COVID-19 has changed a lot for the college application and admissions process. One of the most newsworthy changes is the sheer number of colleges adopting test-optional policies. Test-optional schools won’t require the submission of ACT or SAT scores for at least the upcoming admissions cycle.

Much of these changes have been due to the logistical challenges of testing during the crisis, but the test-optional movement is nothing new. In this post, we’ll discuss why test-optional colleges are important in both COVID and non-COVID contexts, which colleges are going test-optional in 2020, and what this all means for your college prospects and the future of SAT and ACT testing.

Table of Contents

Why are test-optional colleges important?
Colleges Temporarily Going Test-Optional Due to the Crisis
Colleges Permanently Going Test-Optional in 2020
What Are Test-Flexible and Test-Blind Colleges?
How will test-optional affect admissions now and in the future?
Should I still submit my scores to test-optional schools?

Why are test-optional colleges important?

Since the first college that went test-optional in 1969 (Bowdoin College), over 1,000 schools have made the decision to permanently switch over to a test-optional policy. With the COVID-19 crisis, we now have over 200 schools that have made a temporary shift to test-optional, including all of the Ivies. Even many of the schools that haven’t made the shift are clear about the fact that due to limitations, such as not being able to take the test more than once, students’ test scores might not be fully reflective of their true abilities.

All in all, 45% of all colleges and universities in America have a long-standing commitment to test-optional and over half of American colleges and universities feel that test-optional is a necessary measure during these turbulent times. With the current challenges regarding SAT and ACT testing, it makes sense that several schools have made this policy shift. But why have so many schools made this shift prior to the crisis?

It all comes down to the notion that the SAT and ACT are not only inaccurate predictors of success in college but that they are also harming the chances for students from underrepresented backgrounds to be competitive applicants.

Supporters of test-optional cite studies that show that GPA is a better predictor of college success than the SAT/ACT and that test scores and income have a positive correlation, meaning the higher the student’s test score, the higher their socioeconomic status. There is also evidence of racial bias on the SAT. Therefore, many schools have gravitated to the idea that implementing test-optional policies can level the playing field and increase admissions of students from diverse backgrounds.

The Limitations to Test-Optional

It’s important to note that while these schools have labeled themselves as test-optional, many of these schools weren’t entirely test-optional pre-COVID. Students were still required to submit SAT or ACT scores if they didn’t meet a certain GPA or class rank requirement, came from a home-schooled background, were a recruited athlete, and/or were applying to a competitive program within the university, such as a 7- or 8-year accelerated pre-med/med program. Also, some test-optional schools still used test scores to determine merit-based scholarships.

In today’s climate, these policies have become laxer, although some limitations may still exist. For those schools that are test-optional for the upcoming admissions cycle, most schools don’t have a class rank or GPA requirement, and many are waiving test score requirements for merit scholarships and accelerated pre-med/med programs. For example, Brown University’s Program in Liberal Medical Education, have adopted their school-wide test-optional policies. But athletes may still need to submit scores, which is the case for recruited athletes in the Ivy League conference.

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Colleges Temporarily Going Test-Optional for High School Classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023

Below is a list of colleges that are going test-optional temporarily due to the crisis. Because every school has a different policy, we include that information as well. Some schools are only allowing the high school class of 2021 the option of submitting test scores, whereas others are trying this policy out for anywhere between 1-3 years before re-evaluating if it’s a policy they’d want to adopt.

Unless specified otherwise, most of these schools do not have a GPA or class rank requirement. But since there’s so much nuance surrounding test-optional policies, you’d also want to make sure to double-check these policies on the websites of the specific schools that you’re applying to.
 

CollegeTest-optional Status 
Abilene Christian UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Adelphi UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Albion CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Alfred UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Amherst CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Angelo State UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Babson UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Barnard CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Baylor UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Bentley UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Berea CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Biola UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Boston CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Boston UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Brown UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Caldwell UniversityRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Canisius CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Carleton CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Carnegie Mellon UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Carroll UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Central CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Centre CollegeRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Claremont McKenna CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Clarkson UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Coastal Carolina UniversityFor high school class of 2021 (3.5 minimum GPA requirement)
Colgate UniversityFor high school class of 2021
College of CharlestonRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
College of William & MaryRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Columbia UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Concordia University TexasFor high school class of 2021
Cornell UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Dartmouth CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Davidson CollegeRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Dickinson UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Dominican UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Drexel UniversityFor high school class of 2021 (previously test-flexible)
Duke UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Eastern Illinois UniversityFor high school class of 2021 (2.5 minimum GPA requirement)
Eckerd CollegeRunning a 2-year pilot of test-optional
Elizabethtown CollegeFor high school class of 2021 (previously had a minimum GPA requirement)
Elon UniversityRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Emory UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Farmingdale State College SUNYFor high school class of 2021
Florida Southern CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Fordham UniversityRunning a 2-year pilot of test-optional
Georgetown CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Georgetown UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Gonzaga UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Grand Valley State UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Grinnell CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Hamilton CollegeFor high school class of 2021 (previously test-flexible)
Hampden-Sydney CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Harvard CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Harvey Mudd CollegeRunning a 2-year pilot of test-optional
Haverford CollegeRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Hawai’i Pacific UniversityRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Hollins UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Johns Hopkins UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Kenyon CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Lafayette CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Lawrence Technological UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Lehigh UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Lock Haven University of PAFor high school class of 2021 (applies to most programs)
Loyola Marymount UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Marietta CollegeRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Massachusetts Maritime AcademyFor high school class of 2021
Mercer UniversityRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Meredith CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Miami UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Michigan State UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Middlebury CollegeRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional (previously test-flexible)
Montana State UniversityFor high school class of 2021 (minimum GPA requirement)
Mount Mercy UniversityFor high school class of 2021 (3.0 minimum GPA requirement)
Mount Vernon Nazarene UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Murray State UniversityFor high school class of 2021 (3.0 minimum GPA requirement)
New Jersey Institute of TechnologyFor high school class of 2021 (applies to most programs)
New York Institute of TechnologyRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
New York UniversityFor high school class of 2021 (previously test-flexible)
North Dakota State UniversityFor high school class of 2021
North Park UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Northeastern UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Northwestern UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Oakland UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Oberlin CollegeRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Occidental CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Ohio State UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Olin College of EngineeringFor high school class of 2021
Ouachita Baptist UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Pennsylvania State UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Pomona CollegeFor high school class of 2021
Princeton UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Purdue University NorthwestFor high school class of 2021
Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Rhodes CollegeRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Rice UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Rowan UniversityPreviously test-optional with minimum GPA; removed requirement for high school class of 2021
Rutgers University – CamdenFor high school class of 2021
Rutgers University – New BrunswickFor high school class of 2021
Rutgers University – NewarkFor high school class of 2021
Saint Mary’s University San AntonioFor high school class of 2021
Simmons UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Southern Methodist UniversityFor high school class of 2021
St. John Fisher CollegeRunning a 2-year pilot of test-optional
St. Joseph’s College (New York)For high school class of 2021
St. Louis UniversityRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Stanford UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Stephen F. Austin State Univ.For high school class of 2021
Stevens Institute of TechnologyFor high school class of 2021
SUNY AlbanyFor high school class of 2021
SUNY BinghamptonFor high school class of 2021
SUNY BrockportFor high school class of 2021
SUNY BuffaloFor high school class of 2021
SUNY Buffalo StateFor high school class of 2021
SUNY CobleskillFor high school class of 2021
SUNY College of Environmental Science and ForestryFor high school class of 2021
SUNY College of Technology AlfredFor high school class of 2021
SUNY College of Technology CantonFor high school class of 2021
SUNY CortlandFor high school class of 2021
SUNY FredoniaFor high school class of 2021
SUNY GeneseoRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
SUNY Maritime CollegeFor high school class of 2021
SUNY MorrisvilleFor high school class of 2021
SUNY New PaltzFor high school class of 2021
SUNY Old WestburyFor high school class of 2021
SUNY OneontaFor high school class of 2021
SUNY OswegoFor high school class of 2021
SUNY PlattsburgFor high school class of 2021
SUNY Polytechnic InstituteFor high school class of 2021
SUNY Stony BrookFor high school class of 2021
Syracuse UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Texas A&M University – KingsvilleFor high school class of 2021
Texas A&M University–College StationFor high school class of 2021
Texas Christian UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Texas Lutheran UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Texas Tech UniversityFor high school class of 2021 (previously optional only for top 10%)
The College of New JerseyRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
The Cooper UnionRunning a 2-year pilot of test-optional
Towson UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Tufts UniversityRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
Tulane UniversityFor high school class of 2021
University of Alaska, FairbanksFor high school class of 2021
University of California BerkeleyFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of California DavisFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of California IrvineFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of California Los AngelesFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of California MercedFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of California RiversideFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of California San DiegoFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of California Santa BarbaraFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of California Santa CruzFor high school class of 2021 and 2022, then test blind
University of Central ArkansasRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
University of Central MissouriFor high school class of 2021 (3.5 minimum GPA requirement)
University of CincinnatiRunning a 2-year pilot of test-optional
University of ConnecticutRunning a 3-year pilot of test-optional
University of DallasFor high school class of 2021
University of DelawareFor high school class of 2021 nationally (previously in-state only)
University of HawaiiFor high school class of 2021
University of Illinois – ChicagoFor high school class of 2021
University of Illinois – SpringfieldFor high school class of 2021
University of Illinois – Urbana ChampaignRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
University of LouisvilleRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
University of Maine SystemTest optional for two years for most programs
University of Maryland Baltimore CountyFor high school class of 2021
University of MemphisFor high school class of 2021
University of MiamiRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
University of Michigan – Ann ArborFor high school class of 2021
University of Minnesota – DuluthFor high school class of 2021
University of Minnesota – Twin CitiesFor high school class of 2021
University of MontanaFor high school class of 2021 (minimum GPA requirement)
University of North AlabamaFor high school class of 2021
University of North DakotaFor high school class of 2021
University of Notre DameRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
University of PennsylvaniaFor high school class of 2021
University of Rhode IslandFor high school class of 2021
University of RichmondFor high school class of 2021
University of Southern CaliforniaFor high school class of 2021
University of St. FrancisFor high school class of 2021
University of Tennessee-MartinFor high school class of 2021
University of Texas-AustinFor high school class of 2021
University of UtahRunning a 2-year pilot of test-optional
University of VirginiaRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
University of Virginia—WiseFor high school class of 2021
University of Washington BothellFor high school class of 2021
University of Wisconsin SystemFor high school class of 2021
Valley City State UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Vanderbilt UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Vassar CollegeRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Villanova UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Virginia TechFor high school class of 2021
Wabash UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Warner Pacific UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Washington and Lee UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Washington University in St. LouisFor high school class of 2021
Wayne State UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Wellesley CollegeFor high school class of 2021
West Chester University of PennsylvaniaRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
West Virginia Wesleyan CollegeRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Western Michigan UniversityFor high school class of 2021
Western Washington UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Wheaton College ILFor high school class of 2021
Widener UniversityRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Williams CollegeRunning a 1-year pilot of test-optional
Yale UniversityFor high school class of 2021
University of Massachusetts—Amherst Running a 3-year pilot of test-optional

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Colleges Permanently Going Test-Optional in 2020

In addition to colleges that are only doing test optional for one year, there is a wave of schools who have fully come on board with the test-optional movement. These schools are:

  • Arcadia University
  • Barry University
  • Berry College
  • Bethel University
  • Bluffton University (with a 3.0 minimum GPA requirement, still applicable this year)
  • Bradley University
  • Buena Vista University
  • Butler University
  • California Lutheran University
  • California State U., Northridge
  • Carson-Newman University
  • Chestnut Hill College
  • College of Saint Benedict
  • College of Wooster
  • Concordia College (Minnesota)
  • Concordia University Nebraska (with a 3.0 minimum GPA requirement, still applicable this year)
  • Drury University
  • Eastern Kentucky University
  • Eastern Washington University
  • George Fox University
  • Grace College and Seminary
  • Greenville University
  • Husson University
  • Illinois State University
  • Illinois Wesleyan University
  • Indiana Tech
  • Indiana University South Bend
  • Indiana Wesleyan University
  • Lamar University
  • Macalester College
  • Methodist University
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead
  • Missouri Western State University (with a 2.7 minimum GPA requirement, still applicable this year)
  • Neumann University (with a 2.5 minimum GPA requirement, still applicable this year)
  • Ohio University
  • Portland State University
  • Regis University
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Saint John’s University (Minnesota)
  • St. Edwards University (Texas)
  • University of Dayton
  • University of Oregon
  • University of San Diego
  • University of the Cumberlands
  • University of Tulsa
  • University of Washington Seattle
  • William Woods University

For a full list of all colleges that are temporarily and permanently test-optional, click here.

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What Are Test-Flexible and Test-Blind Colleges?

Test-flexible colleges included schools that allowed students to bypass the SAT or ACT by submitting a battery of AP, IB, or SAT subject test scores. In the current climate, most, if not all, test-flexible schools have swapped their policy for test-optional for at least the high school graduating class of 2021.

Test-blind colleges are schools that don’t consider test scores at all in their admissions process. So far, only three schools have made this shift permanently: Northern Illinois University, Hampshire College, and Catholic University, the last of which made the shift during the crisis.

Due to COVID-19, a handful of schools have decided to adopt a test-blind policy for the high school class of 2021 instead of a temporary test-optional policy. These schools are:

  • California Polytechnic State U., San Luis Obispo
  • California State Polytechnic U., Pomona
  • California State U., Bakersfield
  • California State U. Channel Islands
  • California State U, Chico
  • California State U., Dominguez Hills
  • California State U., East Bay
  • California State U, Fresno
  • California State U., Fullerton
  • California State U., Long Beach
  • California State U., Los Angeles
  • California State U. Maritime Academy
  • California State U., Monterey Bay
  • California State U., Sacramento
  • California State U., San Bernardino
  • California State U. San Marcos
  • California State U., Stanislaus
  • Humboldt State U.
  • San Diego State University
  • San Francisco State University
  • San José State University
  • Sonoma State University
  • Northern Michigan University
  • Loyola University New Orleans
  • California Institute of Technology*
  • Reed College*

*These schools will be running a 2-year pilot of the test-blind policy, meaning that this policy is also applicable to the high school graduating class of 2022.

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How will test-optional affect admissions now and in the future?

This is the key question. With the news that 2019 marked a staggering number of colleges making the permanent shift to test-optional, along with those that chose to adopt temporary test-optional policies or phase out ACT/SAT altogether in favor of a new test (read: the UC sytem’s latest announcement), many are wondering what this all means for 2021 admissions. Is this the end of standardized testing as we know it?

In the past, test-optional policies have been associated with an increase in applications and an increase of admission for students from underrepresented backgrounds. However, because many students still decide to submit their scores to test-optional schools, some people have wondered if the test-optional policy actually does what it intended to do in the first place.

Given how COVID-19 has shaken things up, it is truly hard to predict what admissions will look like in 2021. We have no idea if applications will decline altogether, especially from students from underrepresented backgrounds, or if the entering student class will be more diverse than ever. While colleges say they are understanding about student circumstances that could prevent them from submitting their scores, there is an unfortunate possibility of some bias toward students who do decide to submit their scores.

As for speculation about the end of testing, this, too, is too early to tell. Colleges who are planning to only temporarily go test-optional may find that it’s a better policy for them in the long run…or they may not. Or maybe they might take a page out of the UC’s book and create or invest in alternative tests. It’s all really up in the air—we just have to wait and see how it all plays out in the coming years.

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Should I still submit my scores to test-optional schools?

In a COVID-19 world, the question of whether or not to take the test is more than just about access to time, resources, and money. With the SAT terminating their plans for an online test and the ACT’s at-home plans still TBD, you have to figure out whether it’s worth going to a test center and potentially exposing yourself to the virus, even if ACT and SAT testing sites are taking all the necessary precautions.

Our biggest piece of advice is to remember that your health is the number one priority. And clearly, the majority of colleges believe this as well, or they wouldn’t be making these important changes to their admissions processes.

Also, remember that test scores are just one piece of the admissions puzzle. Be open to the possibility that your time may actually be better spent on strengthening your extracurricular activities and/or your GPA than worrying about test prep. And although COVID-19 has posed challenges to these areas as well, note that there are still ways you can engage in meaningful extra curricular activities during this time of social distancing.

On the other hand, if you’re worried about whether or not your high school is competitive enough or if you need strong test scores to make up for a weaker GPA, you may have to take the test. Also, if you spent a lot of time studying for the SAT or ACT already, you might feel like it would be a waste if you don’t take it. And as Hannah noted in the above video, there is real value in having options.

Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Take the Exam In-Person

  • Whether you or someone in your family is immunocompromised
  • The feasibility of getting to a test center
  • How much time you already spent on studying
  • The strength of your GPA
  • The strength of your extracurricular activities
  • The academic rigor of your high school and/or classes
  • The selectivity of the schools you’re applying to
  • The individual test score policies at the schools you’re applying to

Ultimately, whether or not you take the ACT or SAT is not a decision to be made lightly. But hopefully, this post has made it easier for you to navigate college admissions during this uncertain time. Best of luck, and know that we’re rooting for you here at Magoosh!

Improve your SAT or ACT score, guaranteed. Start your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh SAT Prep or your 1 Week Free Trial of Magoosh ACT Prep today!

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About Anika Manzoor

Anika is one of Magoosh’s Blog Editors. She makes sure the content across our blogs is error-free, easy to read, pleasing to the eye, and Google-friendly. Anika has ten years of experience in teaching and facilitating. She has taught English to language learners of all ages in places like Ecuador and Malaysia, has tutored high schoolers in SAT prep, and has led several youth empowerment programs. Anika earned her B.A. in Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies from Grinnell College and her Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University. When she’s not scouring the web for the perfect gif for the blog or strategizing for educational equity, Anika can be found bingeing Netflix, searching Spotify for gems for her workout playlist, or obsessively reading the news. LinkedIn


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