Test Prep

Should You Still Take The SAT/ACT If Applying to Test-Optional Schools?


It's probably happened to you before: You're trying to memorize math formulas for the SAT, but your mind keeps wandering to an alternate universe where no one needs to take the SAT or ACT to get into college.

Guess what? No need to leave this universe anytime soon — you can now apply to certain colleges without submitting SAT or ACT scores. A growing number of schools now label themselves as “test-optional," which means you are not required to send in an SAT or ACT score as part of your college application.

Test-Optional Or Test-Flexible?

If a school labels itself “test-flexible," it is not the same thing as test-optional. You should check this very carefully when you are looking at a school's admission policy. A test-flexible school does not specifically require SAT or ACT scores, but it still does require test scores of some kind, such as AP or IB exams or SAT Subject tests. This allows you to choose the kind of test you feel more comfortable taking and also helps you show off your strengths.

Here is a list of over 1,000 schools that are either test-optional or test-flexible. Check back often, as this list continues to grow.

However, before you cross off all the schools on your list that do require SAT or ACT scores, it's important to consider the specific reasons you are applying to a test-optional school in the first place. Is it because:

1. You Are Trying to Avoid the Time, Effort And Costs Involved in Taking the SAT or ACT?

Test prep takes advance planning, but it can be done. There are countless free resources online and you can ask your school counselor for help with this. You might also be eligible for a test fee waiver so you don't have to pay the registration fee or extra costs for sending out official score reports.

2. You Have Taken the Test But Are Unhappy With Your Scores?

If you've taken the SAT or ACT once already and are worried that your score isn't good enough for the schools on your list, there still may be time to improve your score. If you really don't have time left before the admissions deadline, you can look for a test-flexible school, which will accept other test scores instead, like AP exams or SAT Subject tests.

3. The School You Really Like Simply Happens to be Test-Optional?

If your top choices happen to be test-optional, that's great! But remember that you will want to have a few safety schools on your list, and those may not be test-optional. It's also entirely possible that your list of colleges will change over time and you'll end up needing to take the test anyway. Just a reminder: If you are trying for an Ivy League school, you should know that almost all of the top-tier schools still do require SAT or ACT scores as part of the application process.

Keep Your Options Open

While it is true that you can get away with not ever taking the SAT or ACT these days, there are still a few good reasons to take the test anyway.

Cathy Ganley, owner and senior college consultant at ForWord Consulting, says she strongly encourages her students to take the SAT or ACT with Essay, no matter which schools are on their lists. There are a couple of reasons for this. She points out that many students end up expanding their lists of target schools, “so if you haven't taken the test, you're narrowing yourself in. And if you take the test and don't like it, well the school is still test-optional. The bigger issue for me is scholarships, as those really depend on your test scores, and those are not optional."

Ganley advises her students to take one test in September or October of their junior year. “It limits you in so many ways if you don't," she says. “I always remind my students that hard work and grades matter -- three hours on a Saturday does not supersede three years of classwork."