Test-Optional Colleges Not Requiring SAT or ACT Scores

Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.
Updated December 20, 2023
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Although the ACT and SAT are the two most common college entrance exams, many schools do not require either of these tests. If you cannot access testing or deal with test anxiety, you can explore one of the many on-campus or online colleges that don’t require SAT or ACT scores.

FairTest, a national center for open testing, lists colleges that do not require these entrance exams. This guide covers the pros and cons of withholding scores. Read on to learn more about test-out policies and tips for applicants who opt out.

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Types of Test-Optional Policies

Some schools and universities waive SAT and ACT requirements. These institutions consider other factors to try and predict how well applicants will perform academically in college.

Test-Optional Colleges

Test-optional schools do not require SAT or ACT scores for college admission. However, these schools may still offer academic scholarships based on test scores.

While not required, you may benefit from taking entrance exams and submitting your scores. For example, competitive schools may offer priority admission to applicants with high scores. You should consider taking these exams and submitting your scores if you perform well.

Test-Flexible Colleges

Test-flexible colleges follow policies that are similar to test-optional schools. These institutions don’t require you to take the ACT or SAT, but they allow you to submit your test scores. Like test-optional colleges, you should only submit your scores to test-flexible colleges if they enhance your application.

Some test-flexible schools accept the International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) exam scores. There is no standardized definition of a test-flexible college. You can contact your prospective schools to learn about the exact qualifications.

Test-Free Colleges

Unlike test-optional and test-flexible colleges, test-free colleges (also known as test-blind schools) do not accept standardized test scores. In other words, you may not submit these scores at all. Rather than considering test scores, test-blind colleges put more emphasis on examining things like high school transcripts, resumes, and recommendation letters. Additionally, these institutions usually require application essays, and some include an interview process.

25 Test-Optional Colleges That Do Not Require SAT or ACT Scores

There are hundreds of test-optional colleges and universities in the U.S. Some have made their test-optional policies permanent, while others are only temporary. For instance, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and Princeton University currently plan on using a test-optional admissions process through the 2025-26 academic year.

Below, we highlight some of the better-known accredited colleges with test-optional policies. All of the schools in the table either have permanent test-optional policies or have no current plans to suspend these policies.

Accredited Colleges That Do Not Require SAT or ACT Scores
CollegeLocationOptional, Flexible, or Free?Accrediting Agency
Arizona State UniversityTempe, AZTest OptionalHigher Learning Commission
California State University (CSU System)Multiple Locations in CATest FreeWestern Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission
Clemson UniversityClemson, SCTest OptionalSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
Colorado State UniversityFort Collins, COTest OptionalHigher Learning Commission
Columbia UniversityNew York City, NYTest OptionalMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
Louisiana State UniversityBaton Rouge, LATest OptionalSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
Michigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MITest OptionalHigher Learning Commission
New York UniversityNew York City, NYTest OptionalMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
North Carolina State UniversityRaleigh, NCTest OptionalSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
The Ohio State UniversityColumbus, OHTest OptionalHigher Learning Commission
Purdue UniversityWest Lafayette, INTest FlexibleHigher Learning Commission
San Diego State UniversitySan Diego, CATest FreeWASC Senior College and University Commission
Stanford UniversityStanford, CATest OptionalWASC Senior College and University Commission
Texas A&M UniversityCollege Station, TXTest OptionalSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
University of AlabamaTuscaloosa, ALTest OptionalSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
University of California System (UC System)Multiple Locations in CATest FreeWASC Senior College and University Commission
University of Colorado BoulderBoulder, COTest OptionalHigher Learning Commission
University of Illinois Urbana-ChampaignChampaign, ILTest OptionalHigher Learning Commission
University of KansasLawrence, KSTest OptionalHigher Learning Commission
University of MichiganAnn Arbor, MITest FlexibleHigher Learning Commission
University of South CarolinaColumbia, SCTest OptionalSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles, CATest OptionalWASC Senior College and University Commission
University of Texas at AustinAustin, TexasTest OptionalSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
University of WashingtonSeattle, WATest OptionalNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Washington State UniversityPullman, WATest FreeNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Yale UniversityNew Haven, CTTest OptionalNew England Commission of Higher Education
Source: FairTest.org

When to Submit Your Test Scores to Test-Optional Colleges

Even if a school doesn’t require SAT or ACT scores, it may still be to your advantage to submit them. Below, we list some instances where you might want to submit test scores when applying to test-optional colleges.

You’re Applying to Highly Competitive Colleges

If your dream school has a very low acceptance rate, a high SAT or ACT score could give you an edge when you’re competing with other highly qualified applicants. For example, if your scores are above the median score of the school you’re applying to, you should strongly consider submitting them.

Test Scores Are Required For Financial Aid

If you rely on financial aid to help fund your education, an excellent score could also open up more opportunities for merit-based scholarships. However, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is required for federal student loans, grants, and work-study programs, doesn’t require SAT or ACT scores.

Your Scores Boost Your Application

High SAT or ACT scores can make you more competitive, especially if other aspects of your application, like your GPA, are less than stellar. If it feels like your application is lacking in other areas, like extracurriculars and volunteer activities, a good SAT or ACT score could help.

When to Withhold Your Test Scores from Test-Optional Colleges

Alternatively, when applying to test-optional colleges, there are some instances when submitting your SAT or ACT score might not benefit you.

Your Scores Fall Below the Middle 50%

If your ACT or SAT score falls below the college’s median score, consider withholding your test results from those schools — especially if you feel they don’t accurately reflect your academic abilities. You’re probably better off highlighting other aspects of your application, like a high GPA, ample extracurricular activities, volunteering experiences, or strong letters of recommendation.

The Rest of Your Application Is Strong

If the rest of your application is a strong reflection of your academic achievements and ability to thrive in a college environment, it’s okay to omit your ACT or SAT scores. A high GPA, excellent reference letters, honors and awards, and strong extracurriculars can be just as impactful as good scores.

4 Tips If You’re Opting Out of Submitting Test Scores

Test-optional and test-flexible schools do not require standardized tests. If you’re applying to these schools, consider putting extra effort into other application components. Read on to learn how to enhance other areas of your application.

1. Submit Strong Recommendation Letters

A solid recommendation letter or two can speak volumes about your strengths and character, so you should carefully consider whom you ask. High school teachers often write recommendation letters for students with good grades in their classes. Consider asking a teacher or counselor with strong writing skills who knows you well.

2. Strive for a High GPA

If you do not submit ACT or SAT scores, your GPA likely matters more than ever. Additionally, a high GPA can help you earn academic scholarships. Most schools consider applicants’ cumulative GPAs when choosing who to accept. If you’re a sophomore or junior with a relatively low GPA, strive to raise your GPA in your final years.

3. Engage in Extracurriculars and Volunteering

Most college applications allow you to describe your extracurricular involvement and volunteer history. If not, you should include details in an essay or resume. Colleges tend to value community involvement and look for students who do the same. Additionally, participating in extracurricular activities may lead to scholarship opportunities in areas like choir, dance, special interests, or sports.

4. Present Your Best Self on Social Media

Your social media activity can also impact your chances of being admitted to college. You should be mindful of what you post online and consider making your profiles private (or cleaning them up) during the application process. Also, consider creating a LinkedIn profile.

Frequently Asked Questions About Test-Optional Colleges

Do you need to take the SAT to get into college?

Depending on where you want to apply to college, you may not have to take the SAT. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many postsecondary institutions temporarily suspended SAT and ACT requirements.

For a full list of schools that do not require SAT scores, you can visit FairTest, which has a comprehensive list of all ~1,900 test-optional colleges and universities.

Do all colleges require the ACT?

Like the SAT, many colleges do not require the ACT. Remember to read your prospective college’s test policies carefully to determine if scores are required.

Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

Although there are some structural differences between the tests, the ACT is not necessarily easier than the SAT. The ACT includes a science section, and many test-takers feel it has more straightforward questions than the SAT. Ultimately, which test is easier for you will depend on your academic strengths and weaknesses.

Why are more colleges adopting test-optional policies?

In the past, community colleges represented most of the schools that did not require ACT or SAT scores. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors have led to a recent increase in the number of test-optional schools. And some organizations advocate for more widespread test-optional admission processes. Two factors driving this increase:

  • Standardized tests don’t necessarily predict college success: Some data show that GPAs predict college success better than exam scores. For example, high school GPAs have been shown to be five times stronger than ACT scores at predicting college graduation rates.
  • Test-optional policies may help increase racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity: Analysis by Insider Higher Ed shows that Asian American and white students have average SAT scores above 1100, while students from all other racial groups have average scores below 1000. Income may also influence student performance and their ability to retake tests to improve their scores.

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Page last reviewed November 10, 2023.

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