The ACT and SAT are two common college entrance exams. SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. ACT stands for American College Testing.
Some schools do not require the SAT or ACT. Prospective students who cannot access testing or those with test anxiety can explore online colleges that don't require SAT or ACT scores. FairTest, a national center for open testing, lists schools that do not require these exams.
This guide covers the pros and cons of withholding scores. Read on for test-out policies and tips for those who opt out.
Frequently Asked Questions About College SAT and ACT Requirements
Do you need to take the SAT to get into college?
Yes. Students can attend college without taking the SAT test. Some schools require the ACT test. Other schools do not require either test.
Do all colleges require the ACT?
Not all colleges require the ACT. Some schools require the SAT. Many schools do not require either.
Is the ACT easier than the SAT?
These tests are similar in terms of difficulty. They cover similar topics and require the same level of logic.
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Types of Test-Optional Policies
Some schools and universities waive SAT and ACT requirements. These institutions consider other factors to predict how well applicants will perform academically. The COVID-19 pandemic led to more schools opting out of SAT and ACT requirements. Lockdowns and other restrictions prevented many learners from taking the SAT or ACT.
- Test-Optional College: Applicants at test-optional schools do not need to take the SAT or ACT. However, these schools may offer academic scholarships based on test scores. Learners may benefit from taking these exams. Competitive schools may offer priority admission to applicants with high scores. Learners should consider taking these exams and submit them if they earn high scores.
- Test-Flexible College: Test-flexible colleges follow a similar policy as test-optional schools. These institutions allow learners to submit multiple types of standardized tests. Applicants should only submit scores if they enhance their application. Some test-flexible schools accept the International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement exam scores. There is no standardized definition of a test-flexible college. Students can contact prospective schools to learn exact qualifications.
Test-Blind College: Unlike test-optional and test-flexible colleges, test-blind colleges do not accept standardized test scores. Applicants may not submit these scores at all. Test-blind colleges examine high school transcripts, resumes, and recommendation letters. These institutions usually require application essays. Some include an interview process.
Why More Colleges Are Going Test-Optional
In the past, community colleges were the only schools that did not require ACT or SAT scores. The COVID-19 pandemic and other factors led to an increase in test-optional schools. In fact, some organizations advocate for test-optional admissions. See below for two reasons.
Standardized Tests Don't Necessarily Predict College Success
Not all students perform well on standardized tests. Some learners experience test anxiety despite retaining information well. Some data show that GPAs predict college success better than these exam scores. In fact, high school GPAs have been shown to be five times better than ACT scores at predicting graduation rates.
Test-Optional Policies May Help Increase Diversity
Biases sometimes exist in standardized testing. One study found Asian American and white students averaged scores higher than 1100 on the SAT. Learners from all other groups averaged below 1000. Income may also influence students' performance. Learners with family incomes less than $20,000 received an average score of 433 on the ACT reading section. Students with a family income above $200,000 received an average score of 570.
Pros and Cons of Test-Optional Schools
Students may like the sound of skipping the SAT or ACT. However, learners should weigh the pros and cons of test-optional schools. The right choice depends on students' current situation and future goals. See below for some points to consider.
More Time to Devote to Other Application Components
Learners spend many hours studying for the SAT and ACT. By skipping these exams, students can spend more time on application essays. Learners can also spend more time researching online colleges that don't require SAT or ACT scores.
Less Standardized Test Anxiety
Test anxiety may affect 10-40% of students. Learners may still take the SAT and ACT tests. However, they may feel less pressure knowing some schools accept students without these scores.
An Equal Playing Field
Many learners cannot afford private tutors to help them prepare for the ACT or SAT. In addition, these tests require a fee. Removing these requirements breaks down barriers.
May Affect Merit Scholarships
Many schools use ACT and SAT scores to award merit scholarships. Some learners transfer from a test-optional school to one that requires these tests. These students may receive fewer scholarships.
Higher Importance Placed on GPA
Learners without strong grades may not benefit from attending a test-optional school.
Fewer Test-Optional Schools to Choose From
Most schools still require ACT or SAT scores. Choosing not to take the SAT or ACT could limit options.
Who Does Not Need to Submit Test Scores?
Learners applying to test-optional colleges do not need to submit their scores. Some colleges with ACT and SAT requirements may offer waivers to students with documented disabilities.
Some students may benefit from withholding their test scores. Learners with excellent GPAs who did not score high on the exams may want to withhold their scores.
Learners who need a merit-based scholarship to pay for school may need to submit these scores. Students who scored well on the ACT or SAT but lack a strong GPA should consider submitting their scores.
Tips for Those Who Opt Out of Submiting Test Scores
Test-optional and test-flexible schools do not require standardized tests. Applicants should put extra effort into other application components. Read on to learn how to enhance other application areas.
Submit Strong Recommendation Letters
A solid recommendation letter speaks volumes. Applicants should carefully consider who they ask. High school teachers often write letters for learners with good grades in their courses. Consider asking a teacher with strong writing skills.
Strive for a High GPA
If students do not submit ACT or SAT scores, their GPA matters more than ever. A high GPA can help applicants earn academic scholarships. Most schools consider applicants' cumulative GPA when choosing who to accept. Learners with low first and second-year GPAs can raise their cumulative GPA in their final years.
Participate in Extracurriculars
Many applications allow learners to describe extracurricular involvement. If not, applicants should include details in an essay or resume. Some colleges value community involvement and look for students who do the same. Extracurricular activities may lead to scholarships, like choir or sports scholarships.
Present Your Best Self on Social Media
An applicant's social media activity may impact admission. Students should stay mindful of what they post online. Learners should consider making their profiles private during the application process. They may also want to clean up their profiles. Consider creating a LinkedIn profile. This may help with admissions selections.
Withholding Test Scores: Things to Keep in Mind
- Merit-Based Scholarships: Some merit-based scholarships require SAT or ACT scores. Scholarships from test-optional schools or third-party organizations require these scores. Merit scholarships from test-blind schools rely on a student's cumulative GPA to allocate funds.
- Class Placement: Some schools use SAT and ACT scores to place students in advanced courses. For example, learners who score well on the SAT math portion can sometimes take advanced math during their first year. Students who withhold their scores may need to take an introductory math class.
- NCAA Division Athletes: Students involved in competitive sports may need to submit their test scores. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requires test scores for Division II athletes.
- Out-of-State Students: Some state-funded universities place additional requirements on out-of-state applicants. This usually does not apply to out-of-state students attending online colleges that don't require SAT or ACT scores.
- Score Choice: Score Choice lets test-takers choose which test attempts to send to their colleges. This means students can choose their highest score.