Technically, test-optional admissions is nothing new. Some schools have long been test-optional, while others transitioned to it within the past few years.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept has gained some prevalence among leading institutions. Many colleges and universities had to alter their traditional admissions requirements when the coronavirus forced the closure of facilities, banned large group gatherings, and decreased the availability of ACT, SAT, and PSAT testing sites.

As a result, more students are potentially applying to schools with test-optional admissions today. Since many are unfamiliar with test-optional admissions, here’s a look at what it is, what colleges offer it, whether your student should still sign up for the SAT or ACT, and more.

If you and your student want to learn about how to find scholarships, ensuring that their ideal school is affordable, sign up for our free college scholarship webinar! Take a trip over to to reserve your spot today.

What Does Test-Optional Admissions Mean?

When a school is test-optional, it doesn’t require students to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of the admissions process. If a student doesn’t provide those details, they may still get a place in the incoming class.

Some schools embrace this approach because they feel that a single test score isn’t an accurate reflection of a student’s capabilities or potential value to their college. Instead, they favor a more holistic view, allowing them to prioritize other parts of the application.

However, test-optional admissions do allow students to submit their ACT or SAT scores for consideration. This will enable students to use their exam results to potentially make them a more enticing candidate for admission if they so choose.

Many students aren't familiar with test-optional admissions. Here’s a look at what it is, what colleges offer it, and more.

Are Test-Optional and Test-Flexible the Same Thing?

No, test-optional and test-flexible aren’t the same thing. With test-flexible colleges, schools may have different exam score admissions requirements for individual applicants.

For example, it could be program-specific, with those who plan to major in specific subjects needing to supply test scores. At times, out-of-state applicants have to provide scores, while in-state applicants don’t. There may be a minimum GPA requirement for bypassing the exam results as part of the application.

It’s important for your student to carefully review the admission requirements to determine if the school is test-optional or test flexible. Otherwise, they may mistakenly assume they don’t have to supply ACT or SAT scores when they actually do.

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What Colleges Are Offering Test-Optional Admissions?

There are 1000+ test-optional colleges today. Some of them formally dropped test scores as a requirement years ago, while others are temporarily altering their admissions processes due to COVID-19.

Here’s just a sample of the schools that were test-optional before the pandemic:

Here is an overview of some of the major colleges that went test-optional temporarily due to COVID-19:

Many other colleges have also chosen to go test-optional or test-flexible. If your student wasn’t able to take the SAT or ACT and has a particular school in mind, it’s wise to check and see if its admissions policies were altered in response to the pandemic. There’s a chance that your student could apply even if they didn’t complete the exam.

It’s important to reemphasize that many schools may only offer test-optional admissions for the 2020-2021 school year. Those colleges chose to alter their policies in response to COVID-19. If the situation doesn’t continue long-term, making it possible for students to take the ACT and SAT before the 2021-2022 school year, exam scores may become mandatory again.

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Why Are There More Test-Optional Colleges in 2020?

While there was no shortage of test-optional schools before 2020, the number of colleges going test-optional for the 2020-2021 school year increased dramatically. Over 150 four-year institutions altered their admissions requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, officially changing the exam score requirements for this application year.

The main reason for the decision is the coronavirus outbreak limited students’ access to the SAT and ACT. Test centers weren’t allowed to operate in many states on the pre-scheduled dates. As a result, students who otherwise would have been able to get their test scores in time to apply to college suddenly couldn’t.

While that isn’t the only impact of COVID-19 on students, it was a big one. Luckily, many colleges quickly adapted, ensuring high school seniors could plan to move forward with their education.

Without Test Scores, How Do Colleges Evaluate Students?

Schools can evaluate students based on a wide variety of criteria. If test scores aren’t provided, the college may look at the student’s academic history, including classes taken and their grades or GPA. Additionally, they may put more emphasis on extracurricular participation, volunteer or work experience, teacher recommendations, or application essays.

Every college has the ability to determine which factors it will emphasize or will give more weight. In some cases, schools make it reasonably clear when it comes to their priorities. However, not every institution is overtly transparent about its admissions review process.

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Should I Take the SAT or ACT If I’m Applying to a Test-Optional College?

It’s always wise for students to take the ACT or SAT, even if they plan on applying to test-optional schools. If your student does well, their score could help them stand out from other applicants with similar credentials, giving them a higher chance of being admitted.

Additionally, many schools still require exam scores. If your student doesn’t try to do well on the ACT or SAT, those colleges are all automatically off the table. Since your student should always have a backup plan, it’s wise to do some ACT or SAT prep and give the exam a try. That way, your student can work their way toward strong scores, ensuring they have them should the need ultimately arise.

If you and your student want to learn about how to find scholarships, ensuring that their ideal school is affordable, sign up for our free college scholarship webinar! Take a trip over to to reserve your spot today.

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