• Strengthen Your Chances
  • PSAT, SAT, ACT, Oh My!

4 Things to Know Before Applying to a Test-Optional College

students studying in a library working on computer laughing

More than 1,000 U.S. colleges are "test-optional,” meaning the college doesn't require test scores, at least not from most students.

If you are not a great test-taker or think your test scores don’t accurately reflect your abilities as a student, you might want to apply to a “test-optional” college. Here are four things to know before you take that step.

1. There Are Two Types of “Test-Optional”

A test-optional college lets students decide whether they want to submit test scores with their application. Most test-optional schools will consider SAT and ACT scores if they are submitted, but focus on other factors they believe are stronger predictors of a student’s potential to succeed in college. These schools look at a student’s essays, recommendations, grades, and coursework just as (or more) closely than your test scores.

A test-flexible college lets students submit other test scores in place of the SAT or ACT, such as one or more SAT Subject Tests, an International Baccalaureate exam, or Advanced Placement test.

2. Test-Optional Policies Differ from College to College

Some test-optional policies come with restrictions. For example,

  • Some test-optional schools require test scores for out-of-state or international students, or for students pursuing certain majors.
  • Some test-optional schools may determine your test-optional eligibility using an index calculated from your GPA, test scores, and class rank.
  • Some test-optional schools will still expect you to submit test scores for placement in the freshman class or ask you to take a placement exam.
  • Some test-optional schools may ask for additional materials in lieu of test scores, such as samples of your academic work, scientific research, or additional recommendation letters.

3. Other Parts of Your Application Will Be Closely Scrutinized

Colleges want as much information about you as possible. So if you withhold your test scores, the other parts of your application -- your grades, essays, extracurricular activities, and achievements -- must be strong enough to make the college want to admit you.

4. Test Scores Might Be Required for Merit Scholarships

Many test-optional colleges look at test scores when awarding merit scholarships, so not submitting them might put you at a disadvantage. Be sure to confirm all scholarship requirements with the college.

How to Find Out Which Colleges Are Test-Optional

Go to FairTest for a list of more than 1,000 accredited colleges and universities that do not use ACT/SAT scores to admit substantial numbers of students into their bachelor's degree programs. (Source: FairTest) You'll see a number of well-known and selective colleges and universities on this list, such as Bates, Bowdoin, Wake Forest, Wesleyan, Bucknell, George Mason, and Mount Holyoke. In fact, entire university systems have gone test-optional, such as the California State University and University of Texas systems.

The information contained on the CollegeData website is for general informational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content contained on the CollegeData website without consulting with your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on the CollegeData website.

What's Next?

Find out whether a college is test optional by looking up its College Profile with College Match. Each Profile provides detailed information about admission requirements, including whether test scores are required.

What admission factors other than test scores do colleges consider important? See What Matters Most to Colleges.