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Should I still take the ACT/SAT if a college is test optional or test blind?

May 2020

With many SAT and ACT test dates cancelled, the capacity of testing centers significantly reduced due to social distancing, and plans for at-home assessments still up in the air, many schools have decided to not require candidates to submit SAT or ACT scores for the 2021 admissions cycle. Is it even worth taking these tests if schools do not require their scores?

First, some terminology definitions:

  • Test optional schools do not require applicants to submit ACT/SAT scores.
  • Test blind schools do not consider standardized test scores in the admissions decision.

Second, a very short version of the answer:

  • Yes, you should probably still take the ACT or SAT.
  • You should submit your test scores if they are stronger than the average applicant’s scores, because they can help you get in or receive merit-based aid.

For a much longer answer with more context, read on:

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of US colleges and universities considered a candidate’s test scores in the admissions decision, meaning they were not test-blind. Hampshire College, a top-tier liberal arts college in Massachusetts, is perhaps currently the best-known early adopter of a test blind policy. However, two of the largest public university systems in the U.S. will not consider standardized test scores in upcoming admissions seasons. The California State University System announced they won't consider ACT/SAT in making admissions decisions in 2021. The University of California system made a similar announcement, but this change will not go into effect until 2023.

However, most colleges still use test scores as a piece of the puzzle in deciding who gets accepted. Most extremely competitive schools, like Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton, still require SAT or ACT scores, but an increasing number of top-tier schools are going test-optional in 2021, including Williams College, Pomona College, Cornell University, and the University of California system (the latter of which will be test blind in 2023). These schools will not require test scores, but they will consider them as part of a candidates application, if the candidate chooses to submit their scores.

Now, to the original questions:

Should you still take the ACT/SAT? Unless you are exceptionally confident that you do not want to attend a school that requires testing, you should still take the ACT or SAT.

Should you submit your scores? There are two reasons a candidate may decide to submit ACT/SAT scores, even though they are not required: the scores can help you get in or receive merit-based aid. Test scores will likely improve your likelihood of acceptance if they are "stronger" than your grades, meaning that relative to the average applicant at a prospective college, your test scores compare favorably with your grades. Regardless of your grades, your scores can bump up your admissions chances if they are above the school's median score, particularly if they are near or above its 75th percentile score.

To obtain this information, you can Google the school name + "SAT percentiles" or "ACT percentiles," as most colleges publish this information publicly. In your search, look for URLs that correspond to the school's official website, as many third-party sites use outdated information. Merit scholarships may have certain test score thresholds, so refer to your prospective college's website for this information, and do not hesitate to reach out directly to its Office of Financial Aid if this information is not readily available.