Admissions Policies at Test-Optional Colleges

Facebook Live with Todd Rhinehart and Akil Bello on the topic of test-optional colleges.

Bowdoin College was the first college to go test optional in 1969. Though a bold move at the time, many other colleges did not follow Bowdoin’s lead. It wasn’t until the last 10 years that the test optional movement gained much more momentum.

As data accumulated and research proved, standardized test scores are heavily influenced by factors beyond a student’s academic achievement, such as family income and wealth.

Many academics and college admissions professionals who endorse a test-optional approach, believe standardized tests are not predictive of a student’s success in college.

In a Facebook Live discussion with Todd Rhinehart, Vice Chancellor of Enrollment for University of Denver, he explained that after analyzing past cohorts of students, the use of standardized tests in the admissions process accounted for just 2% of the predictability of a student’s freshmen year grades. By comparison, a student’s GPA was a much stronger predictor of freshmen grades.

Though the trend towards test-optional was increasing, the arrival of COVID-19 has accelerated the shift even faster as more and more colleges announce the move to test-optional.


Test Optional Colleges Due To COVID-19

By now you’ve heard that some colleges and universities are not requiring undergraduate applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores. 

Can or should schools require or even expect applicants to submit test scores during a season ravaged by a virus that has infected entire communities, industries and institutions?

Standardized testing was cancelled this past Spring and possibly thru the fall, until further adjustments can be made to safely reschedule them. Stay tuned as rescheduled ACT dates will be forthcoming.

The impact of the virus is not just being felt by the Class of 2020 but will potentially affect the next few graduating classes as well.

Here is the list of newly test-optional colleges as of April 12th:

Test-Optional Colleges as a Result of COVID-19

Amherst College
Anderson University (Indiana)
Babson College
Bethany College
Boston University
California State University
Case Western Reserve
Chestnut Hill College
Clarkson University
Colgate University
College of Wooster
Concordia University Texas
Davidson College (3-year pilot)
Drury University
Hamilton College
Haverford College
Indiana University Bloomington
Mansfield University of Pennsylvania
Middlebury College
Neumann University (2.5 GPA)
Northeastern University
Portland State University
Quincy University in Illinois
Santa Clara University
Scripps College
Shenandoah University
Trinity University, Texas (3-year pilot)
Tufts University (3-year pilot)
University of the Cumberlands
University of Oregon
Western Michigan University
William Woods University
Williams College


Before the impact of COVID-19, there were many schools that had already moved to test-optional. Currently there are over 1100 accredited college and universities that do not use ACT or SAT scores to admit into their undergraduate programs.

To get a full list of test-optional colleges visit, an organization that keeps track of colleges’ testing policies.


What Does Test-Optional Mean?

With so many colleges going test-optional, whether temporarily due to COVID-19 or permanently, students and parents need to understand what test-optional means.

A test-optional college does not require students to submit their SAT or ACT as part of their college application.

For colleges that have a test optional admissions policy, the applicant’s high school academic record is the most important assessment criteria. Next in importance may be the applicant’s personal essay, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and a personal interview. 

When applying to a test-optional college, a student can still submit their ACT or SAT if they would like.

Students tend to submit scores to test optional colleges when they feel they have performed well and their test scores are in the higher end of the school’s test score range for admitted students.

Depending on the school, if scores are submitted, they will be considered in the admissions process.

For students who do not submit test scores, other parts of their application are more heavily relied upon, especially a student’s GPA and class rigor.


What Does Test Flexible Mean?

Test Flexible policies have just that, flexibility. Depending on the type of school they may require a student meet a minimum GPA or class rank for automatic admission.

Test flexible schools may accept various other test scores including: International Baccalaureate Test (IB), Advanced Placement Exams (AP), Subject Tests or a particular school administered test.

However, international students may be required to submit some other form of testing i.e. Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Other submissions that demonstrate a student’s strengths, abilities or talent could include auditions, interviews, letters of recommendations, personal statements, portfolios, resume or writing samples. 

Every college has its own list of tests that they will accept, so it’s best to ask schools directly.


What Doest Test Blind Mean?

Test blind means that standardized test scores are not considered at all during the admissions process. Applicants do not need to submit them and they will not be used at all in the admissions process. 


Is It Easier To Get Into A Test-Optional College?

Some students and parents may think if a school is test-optional it may be easier to get into since scores no longer play a major role in admissions.


Test scores may still matter at test-optional schools, but by going test-optional, schools are signaling to students who do not have competitive scores for that school, that they can still apply.

If scores are submitted to a test-optional school they will still be considered. Most likely, students that will continue to submit their scores are those that feel they performed well and where their test scores compare competitively to the higher end of a school’s test score range. 

Why are schools moving towards this option? For many colleges, adopting a test-optional admissions policy can have the following benefits: 

  • An increased number of applicants, resulting in a lower (i.e., more selective) acceptance rates.
  • A decrease in the number of lower-scoring incoming students with reported scores will likely inflate average scores reported for admitted students.
  • In some cases to strengthen and diversify their pool of applicants. This could open the doors to first generation students, students of color, and those from low income households.

Applying to a test-optional school should be considered if a student has low scores or doesn’t test well but an appropriate GPA for the school and other attributes that better reflect the abilities of the student.  


More Uncertainty Due To COVID-19

The arrival of COVID-19 has certainly impacted the senior class and will change how universities going forward.

There are so many questions, scenarios, and decisions to be made but it’s too early to speculate on the overall ramifications.

The ability to apply to more test-optional and test flexible colleges will become more attractive to those students unable to test or unhappy with their result, but GPA’s will be more important. However, calculating GPAs will be tricky due to the disruption of high school closings and pass/fail policies instead of grades.

Will we see an increase in schools adopting test-optional admission processes? Absolutely!

The ball is in the student’s court on where to apply.

The choice is theirs to decide if a score represents their academic success readiness…or not.







Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.