Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox
As schools and testing centers shut down in spring 2020, it seemed only fair for colleges and universities to suspend ACT and SAT admissions requirements. A pandemic is as good a reason as any to change the rules.
Three years later, and months after the Covid-19 national emergency was declared over, 80 percent of colleges and universities are still following “test-optional” protocols. This trend has generally been celebrated by critics of the tests, who argue that the exams are inherently unfair due to the disproportionately large share of high scores among affluent test takers. However, in practice, the test-optional system is far more exclusionary than mandatory testing requirements ever were.
As the number of students applying to college has been increasing each year since 2019, college admittance is more competitive now than ever. Students with access to college counselors and test tutors (read: wealthier students) know this, and many are still using ACT and SAT exams to stand out.
Students with access to test tutors are aware that the eye of the admissions needle has narrowed, and they are being coached to use their test scores to thread it. As an SAT/ACT tutor in New York City for a tutoring company that charges over $200 an hour, I have worked with multiple students who are encouraged to retest even after scoring in the upper 1500s on the SAT or above a 34 on the ACT. Their parents can afford to deliver them that extra boost.
Related: PROOF POINTS: Research on increasing diversity in college admissions
Meanwhile, with admission tests voluntary, low-income students tend to opt out. In its 2022 SAT annual report, the College Board reported that students from families earning less than $67,083 annually made up only 27 percent of test takers who reported their family income. Six years earlier, while tests were still mandatory for most college applications, students from families earning less than $60,001 made up a far-larger share: 43 percent of test takers. While the percentage of low-income test takers has radically fallen off, the opposite is true for wealthy students: In 2022, 57 percent of test takers who reported their families’ earnings were from households earning $83,766 or more. This is a jump from 46 percent of student test takers whose families earned $80,001 or more in 2016.
While teaching high school English at a Title III public school in Northern California after the SAT/ACT requirements had just been lifted in 2020, I noticed the morning prep period dedicated to SAT administration was known around campus as a great day to sleep in. There was little to no test prep offered to students, either.
Today, many of the students I tutor are brought to me via partnerships with some of New York City’s most elite and expensive private schools. They are prioritizing test prep as a method of differentiating their students in an overly competitive admissions field.
The glaringly unfair aspect of “test-optional” guidelines is that wealthy students know it’s a meaningless distinction; lower-income students with less access to college counselors, however, do not.
The biggest question here in terms of equity is whether colleges are following through on their pledges to deprioritize test scores in admissions. Are colleges being true to their word and not weighing test scores as highly as other metrics? Or are these tests more significant than schools are letting on?
It turns out that the “test-optional” stamp on most College Board applications may be extremely misleading. A 2019 pre-pandemic survey (the most latest available) reported in the National Association for College Admission Counseling State of College Admissions found that 83 percent of colleges considered admission test scores to be of “considerable” or “moderate” importance. This was only a hair shy of the 90 percent of schools that considered grades influential toward admittance, and significantly higher than the 56 percent of universities that considered writing samples important. While the post-pandemic test-optional guidelines may have diminished the relevance of scores, the question is whether or not that diminished relevancy is more policy than practice.
The bottom line is: Colleges are looking at ACT and SAT scores. Opting out of the tests in a “requirement-free” admissions process could be the difference between denial or admission to a dream school. It could alter student scholarship opportunities as well.
The 2022 acceptance rate at Fordham University was 63 percent among students who submitted scores, compared with 49 percent among those who did not. Similarly, Boston College’s 2022 incoming class recorded an acceptance rate of 25 percent among those who submitted scores and 10 percent among students who did not. This admittance discrepancy holds true for other big name schools, including Barnard, the University of Virginia, Georgia Tech, Amherst, and many more. The glaringly unfair aspect of test-optional guidelines is that wealthy students know it’s a meaningless distinction; lower-income students with less access to college counselors, however, do not.
The percentage of students taking the SAT from high-income families jumped from 46 percent in 2016 to 57 percent in 2022.
The test-optional system is in dire need of restructuring. In order to promote true equity, schools should completely eliminate SAT/ACT scores from the college application process. There’s precedent: As of 2021, none of the University of California schools accept or even consider score reports of any kind. If all universities were to follow suit, it would level the playing field by negating the expenses of tests, tutors and studying time.
Unfortunately, many schools are moving in the opposite direction. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a school focused on science and mathematics, will once again require test scores beginning in fall 2023. The university administration argues that test scores help predict students’ success at MIT and aid the school in identifying promising students who may not have had access in high school to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities.
While I disagree with this decision, it is still more equitable than labelling test scores “optional.” At least in the case of MIT, all students will be aware of the requirement and can at least attempt to study accordingly. The deceptively exclusionary message of “test-optional,” however, is often only correctly deciphered by expensive tutors and guidance counselors.
Related: COLUMN: Colleges decry Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, but most have terrible track records on diversity
Disregarding test scores and requiring them are both far more transparent than the current system at many schools. With the Supreme Court affirmative action decision injecting some chaos into the college application process, it’s important for colleges to be as straightforward with applicants as possible. The misleading “test-optional” label only complicates the path to college for many low-income students.
Maggie Bigelow is a former public high school teacher and current MFA nonfiction writing candidate at Columbia University.
This story about test-optional admissions was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.
What entrance exams do you need to take to get into college? Most colleges or universities, including Saint Louis University, accept the SAT or ACT. Many, SLU included, are now test optional.
If you choose to take a college admission tests the score it can increase your eligibility for merit scholarships. Here are our answers to the most common questions about college entrance exams.
While many universities will accept scores from either the SAT or ACT, some will only consider one, so start off by checking the admission requirements of the colleges that interest you. If, like at SLU, scores from both college admission exams are accepted, learn a little bit more about each test to see which is best suited to you.
Can't decide? It is becoming more common to take both the SAT and the ACT, but it is certainly not required. Consider your ability to prepare for tests while balancing your school work and other activities. It may go without saying, but you'll do best on a test you are ready to take.
College admission exams are usually given early in the morning, so you might want to choose a testing site close to home so you are able to get as much sleep as possible the night before. If your high school offers college admission test testing, consider taking your SAT or ACT there; you already know how to get there and are familiar with the building, which can take some stress out of test day.
Hint: Your local college or university might also be a test site — SLU is. And as a bonus, taking the test on campus gives you another chance to see what college life is like outside of a campus tour. Find out where you can take the ACT and where you can take the SAT.
College admission exams are typically offered every few months. In order to be considered for scholarships at many colleges and universities, you'll need to apply for admission (and include your SAT or ACT test score) by Dec. 1 of your senior year.
Give yourself enough time to prepare for the test, but don't wait until the last minute in case you want to take the SAT or ACT a second time to try getting a better score. Check out the test requirements of the colleges or universities you're thinking about attending or learn about SLU's application deadlines and admission requirements.
There are lots of tools to help you with ACT and SAT preparation. Check to see if your high school offers a college admission test prep course, or talk to your parents about investing in a review course or a tutor. It might also be helpful to take practice exams like the PSAT or PACT first to see which test suits you best or in which areas of the test you need improvement.
No matter how you decide to prepare, make sure to understand the different parts of the exams and skills they test. Both the ACT and SAT websites offer trial questions.
There might be a few extra steps for you if you currently attend high school in a country other than the U.S. Learn about SLU's admission requirements for international students.
Keep Exploring Be A Billiken
Santa Clara University is extending its “test-optional” policy for first-year and transfer students until 2024. Scores on the SAT or ACT are not required for students applying to Santa Clara University for the 2024 term. As a test-optional university, students still have the option to submit any standardized test score results they’ve received. A student who chooses not to submit standardized test scores will be at no disadvantage in our admission or merit scholarship review processes.
For the 2023 application cycle:
Where does an applicant select having ACT/SAT scores reviewed or not?
On the Common Application Supplement Questions for SCU, the following question will be required of all first-year applicants: Do you want your test scores considered?
Are other test scores like SAT II Subject Tests, AP test scores, IB test scores, A-levels test scores, etc. required in the admission review process?
Santa Clara does not require submission of these scores for admission application evaluation. If students would like to report scores, they have the option to share scores through their Common Application.
How do we evaluate applications?
At Santa Clara University, we review applications holistically, meaning that we will review your application individually, taking into account your academic credentials as well as your personal qualities. Important required pieces of your application include your transcript, course rigor, unweighted GPA, extracurricular activities, Common App essay, supplemental questions, and demonstrated interest. Test scores are treated as optional information, similar to a resume or an additional letter of recommendation.
What if I’m applying for Fall 2025 or later?
Santa Clara University is still reviewing the test-optional policy for future years.
Can an applicant who is deferred or waitlisted change their testing choice?
An applicant with a deferred or Wait List decision will have the opportunity to submit supplemental information, including test scores, an updated transcript, letter of interest, or additional letters of recommendations. It will not be required or expected to submit test scores.
What should I know as an international student?
You still have the test-optional choice. All international applicants are required to demonstrate a minimum level of English language. You can view our Undergraduate English Proficiency website to see the several ways to demonstrate English proficiency in the application for admission, which include proficiency exams like IELTS, TOEFL, Duolingo or standardized tests like SAT or ACT.
Does Santa Clara Superscore?
Yes. Students who choose to submit their test scores have the option to submit multiple scores. SCU is interested in your best achievement, so sending us multiple tests, if available, allows us to see subsections regardless of test date or test type (ACT/SAT).
How does this affect merit scholarships and institutional financial aid awards?
It doesn’t! All students are reviewed for merit scholarships, whether they applied with or without a test score. About the top 15% of our applicants receive merit scholarships on the basis of a holistic review process. A student who chooses not to submit standardized test scores will be at no disadvantage in our merit scholarship review processes. It’s up to you.
Students who choose to have their scores considered must take the test by the appropriate application deadline:
|Early Action & Early Decision I||Regular Decision & Early Decision II|
|Common Application & Supplement Deadline||November 1||January 7|
|Last Accepted SAT Test Date||October||December|
|Last Accepted ACT Test Date||September*||December|
*We cannot ensure October ACT test results will reach our office in time for Early Action and Early Decision I review.
We accept the following options to complete the test scores requirement by the application deadline:
If you receive updated test results after submitting the Self-Reported Test Scores form, you can self-report these newer scores by filling out the form again.
If you are offered admission to Santa Clara University and choose to enroll, official test scores that match your self-reported scores will need to be received by your deposit deadline. In order for test scores to be considered official, they must be sent directly from College Board or ACT. Santa Clara University reserves the right to revoke admission if an applicant’s self-reported scores do not match their official score report.
For enrolling students who did not select to have test scores considered in the admission review process, SCU will ask for official scores after matriculation if scores are available. The scores will be used for assessment of the test optional program.
Learn more about our test-optional policy:
Can I switch my testing plan after submitting my Common Application?
Students who submit standardized test results to Boston College and indicate on their applications that they wish to have scores considered will be unable to switch their application to test-optional at a later point in time. Once scores become part of a student's file, they cannot be removed.
Students who apply as test-optional candidates and later wish to have the Admission Committee consider their standardized test results may request to do so in writing at firstname.lastname@example.org. For full consideration, students should contact us directly as close to our deadlines as possible.
Does this policy apply to international students?
Yes. International students are still required to demonstrate English language proficiency via TOEFL, IELTS, or Duoligo English Test results. This English language proficiency requirement may be waived for students who speak English as their native language, have attended a US high school for at least three years in a non-ESOL curriculum, or submit standardized test results including scores of 650 or greater on the SAT EBRW or 29 or greater on the ACT English section. Learn more here.
Does this policy apply to home-schooled students?
Yes. However, because the Admission Committee has little context in which to evaluate home-schooled students’ academic results, standardized test results are extremely helpful to the Admission Committee. Home-schooled applicants are strongly encouraged to submit standardized test scores that allow us to put their applications in context with others in our pool. Other quantitative measures that students may also benefit from submitting include AP test scores and/or college coursework. Official college transcripts should be submitted for all college courses completed.
Does this policy apply to athletic recruits?
Yes. The NCAA has removed the test score requirement for athletic eligibility in Division I sports. Recruited athletes are responsible for ensuring their NCAA eligibility.
We don’t require applicants to submit standardized test scores because we think there are better ways to determine if you’ll be successful at Conn. And we want you to highlight your strengths in the application process, not write about a random subject we've assigned. We believe your high school transcript, essay, recommendations or other application materials may show your strengths better than test scores.
Our advice is to submit your scores if you feel they are representative of your achievement and will enhance your application. (Review the middle 50% range of scores submitted for the Class of 2024.) However, if you feel your standardized test scores do not reflect your full potential and elect not to submit them, you will not be at a disadvantage in the admission process.
In the Common App, simply choose which one testing score option you'd like us to consider:
If you would like us to consider your tests scores as part of your application, note that we accept both official and self-reported test scores.
Official test scores can be submitted in any of the following ways:
Self-reported test scores can be submitted in either of the following ways:
If you submit self-reported scores, please note that your official test scores will be required upon enrollment. Any discrepancies from self-reported test scores may result in rescinding our offer of admission.
We “superscore” the SAT Reasoning Test and use the combined highest composite score from the ACT. You should send scores from every SAT/ACT date for which you received your best scores in specific sections.
Scores from standardized tests taken through November typically arrive in time for Early Decision I consideration. Tests taken in December will arrive in time for Early Decision II and Regular Decision applicants.
Standardized test scores are not considered in the transfer application process.
Conn's standardized testing policy does not apply to testing for purposes of demonstrating English proficiency. Students whose first language is not English must submit the TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo or PTE.
Applicants will have an opportunity to check "Yes" or "No" when applying for admission to indicate if scores should be considered when ESF is reviewing the application. Although a preference cannot be changed online once the application has been submitted, please contact the ESF Office of Admissions to request a change. We will do our best to accommodate your preference. Once an admission decision has been made, changes cannot be accommodated.
Scholarships that are awarded based on academic performance will no longer factor in test scores as part of the consideration. If you apply test optional, you will still be given full consideration for scholarships based on your academic achievements in a strong curriculum.
Test scores are not required to be considered for the Honors Program. The ESF Honors Program remains a great opportunity for highly motivated students. Most students who enter the Honors Program are in the top 20 percent of their high school class and have a cumulative GPA of 92% or higher.
If a student indicates on the application that they are applying without consideration of SAT or ACT exams, any test scores already on file or included on a student's transcript, will not be included in the review of that student's application.
For the purpose of reviewing the application and making an admission decision, test scores may be submitted directly from the testing agency, on your high school transcript or from an applicant's score report (to be followed by official scores).
If you choose to have test scores included in your application, those scores, sent from the testing agency or posted to your final official high school transcript), will be required prior to enrollment.
Applicants interested in ESF's joint programs with Upstate Medical University are required to provide standardized test scores.
International applicants are not required to submit SAT or ACT test scores as part of the application process. However, students whose first language is not English are required to meet ESF's English language proficiency requirement. Please see requirements for international students.
Our admission review process is based on a comprehensive, holistic approach that considers multiple factors in making decisions. A test-optional policy provides students with additional ownership in the process by allowing them to decide whether or not they wish for SAT/ACT scores to be included as part of their application review. We know that for many students, they will still want their standardized test scores used in the review, and we will continue to include accordingly.
However, we realize that for some students, they would prefer to have their admission review based on the other pieces of an application without including SAT/ACT scores—an option we now confidently offer. Additionally, our hope is that this will encourage those students who may have been hesitant to apply previously out of concern over the importance of SAT/ACT scores to be more confident in knowing their application can be fully reviewed without these scores.
If you are a student who has performed strongly in a challenging high school curriculum but you feel your test scores do not properly reflect your academic abilities or if you have not had the chance to take the SAT/ACT, you may choose not to submit them.
If you have had the opportunity to take an SAT/ACT and feel that your scores are a strong reflection of your academic abilities, then you should feel comfortable submitting your results.
The William & Mary section of the Common App will ask if you are planning to apply test optional. Should you select that option any self-reported testing you provided in your application will be suppressed as will any previous testing you may have provided us before you applied.
Because our admission review process is based on a comprehensive, holistic approach that considers multiple factors in making decisions it is difficult to provide specific guidance without understanding the full context of each prospective applicant. However, the information below may provide some guidance as you decide on the best course of action:
For the class of 2026 our mid 50% enrolling student GPA on a standard weighted 4.0 scale was a 4.1-4.5.
For the class of 2026 our mid 50% SAT score was a 1380 – 1520.
For the class of 2026 our mid 50% ACT score was a 32-34.
These ranges are inclusive of in-state and out-of-state enrolled students, but given the more competitive nature of our out-of-state pool our out of state applicant group usually leans toward the higher end of our indicated ranges.
Note: 34% of the Class of 2026 applied test-optional.
All applicants are considered for our various merit programs regardless of whether test scores are submitted or not.
No particular group is required to submit test scores. However, students who may be from a school with written evaluations in place of grades, or students from homeschool environments who have not taken any—or very few—Advanced Placement or dual-enrollment college courses would likely benefit from providing test scores. This may include any SAT/ACT scores, Advanced Placement test scores or a combination of the above.
International students also have the option whether or not to submit SAT/ACT scores. However, they are strongly encouraged to submit an ACT or SAT if other external test results (and/or predicted results) for exams such as IB/AP/A levels aren’t available. Additionally, if English is not your native language, and if your schooling during the past five years or more has been in a language other than English, the university urges you to take either the TOEFL or IELTS exams to demonstrate English language proficiency.
If you are considering applying test-optional be sure to check with your guidance counselor to see if removing test scores from your transcript is an option. If not, we will still read your application as though test scores had not been provided.