What Does It Mean If a School Is Test-Optional?

There is a lot of focus placed on the SAT and the ACT during the final years of high school, from studying for them to taking them, to retaking them and submitting scores. Whether you’re crying tears or joy or tears of sadness when your scores arrive, it’s clear that a great deal of importance is placed on these test scores. But what if your test scores just don’t reflect the type of student that you are? Today, we’re discussing test-optional schools, and the various benefits of applying to one.

A “test-optional” school is exactly what it sounds like: students are not required to submit test scores, so taking them is entirely optional. Some schools state that they are “test-flexible,” which typically means they don’t require ACT or SAT scores if the student has taken other college-level tests (an SAT subject test, an AP test, or an International Baccalaureate). Here are a few top reasons why various schools are starting to become test-optional and test-flexible…


These colleges want a wide range of applicants.

I don’t know about you, but I did a lot of research when I applied to a school, and I always started with the SAT and ACT scores of their admitted students. These scores often give potential applicants a concrete number, and often time that number can deter them from applying.

Many schools who have become test-optional or test-flexible have done so because they want more students applying – students who might have lower test scores but stellar grades and extracurriculars. Admissions counselors don’t want one factor – a test score – to discourage someone from applying at all.



These colleges want applicants to focus on the big picture.

Some students spend so much time and energy preparing for the SAT and the ACT that they end up neglecting their schoolwork, their extracurricular activities, their jobs, and so on. Many schools have become test-optional schools to prevent that from happening.

Admissions counselors want to find well-rounded students. A great score on the SAT is an accomplishment, but what does it mean if you’ve let your grades drop, abandoned a hobby you’re passionate about, and quit your sports team in order to get it? Instead of sending in your test scores, schools want to see your grades, your leadership abilities, your passions, and the other various achievements that make you YOU!



These colleges want “specialists.”

When I was in high school, I had a locker next to a guy that I always referred to as a “genius.” Just glancing at his high-level science and math textbooks intimidated me. He was incredibly gifted, and he was known around school for his mathematical and scientific gifts. You can imagine my shock when I “beat” him on the SATs. I thought it was a fluke, until I realized that he has incredibly specialized knowledge that simply isn’t always measurable through a standardized test. This is another reason why some schools are opting to become test-optional.

Anyone who is at the top of their field is an expert in said field. Colleges want these types of people, who are specialists in whatever subject they are passionate about. Test scores cannot always show this, but a holistic look at grades, awards, hobbies, and course loads usually can.



To see a list of schools that are currently test-optional and test-flexible, check out this list from FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Make sure to research any test-optional school in-depth! Sometimes test scores are required in certain cases (out-of-state students, students applying to specific programs, students below a certain GPA, etc.). All schools are a little bit different, so researching admissions facts thoroughly is the best thing you can do to help yourself!


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