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What Advisors Should Know About Colleges' Test-Optional Policies

Making the wrong choice can be costly.

The pandemic impacted one of the mainstays of college admissions—the dreaded standardized test—in a dramatic way.

The SAT and ACT became less relevant during the pandemic because high schools, along with so much else, shut down in 2020, which nixed in-person testing.

That said, making the wrong testing choices, including whether to take the test or submit scores, still can potentially cost a family tens of thousands of dollars or more in grants and scholarships.

A lot has happened to standardized testing since the testing shutdown, which is why it’s a good time to provide an update.

Here are five things you should know:

Most schools don’t require scores

Back in the spring of 2020, nearly all colleges and universities that required test scores dropped the requirement. More than two years later, most schools are still maintaining test-optional policies.

Many colleges have adopted a test-optional policy on a temporary basis as they watch to see how successful the practice is. So far, a minority of schools have retreated back to requiring test scores. The most notable institution in this category is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It’s tougher to get in than ever

When standardized testing was no longer a requirement, many teenagers believed that not having to submit scores would make it easier to get into extremely popular colleges and universities. That belief, however, didn’t pan out because too many students erroneously believed the same thing.

Applications to the most prestigious and popular schools skyrocketed, which has led to even lower acceptance rates. Admit rates of 1% or 2% among the most highly selective universities could become a reality soon.

Here are a few admission rate examples:


One lesson from the application stampede experienced at elite schools is that students should be more realistic when creating their college lists.

It can be financially risky

Some schools won’t consider a student for institutional merit scholarships, or at least for top awards, if they don’t submit scores.

Students should ask the admission office if not submitting their scores could result in a lower financial aid award or impact a merit award. The simple act of asking an admission staffer if a student’s scores should be submitted wouldn’t hurt admission chances in any way. Scores would be considered only once officially submitted.

If a student doesn’t plan to submit scores, they need to have a competitive grade point average and transcript for individual institutions compared with other applicants. GPA and rigor of high school courses taken will be even more important with the absence of scores.

Not submitting scores may make it harder to get accepted

Something else to consider in this test-optional environment is that the chances of getting accepted at some highly selective schools will drop without the scores.

Compass Education Group, which is a national test-prep firm that I admire, pulled together figures that show acceptance rates for submitters and nonsubmitters at some popular schools. As you can see below, the chances of getting accepted were significantly higher with test scores, at some universities.


Test blindness is a good thing

The financial risk of not submitting test scores isn’t an issue at schools that are test-blind—which means the institutions don’t accept standardized test scores. About 80 schools have so far announced that they are done with standardized testing entirely. The most notable institutional player in that category is the University of California system.

A test-blind policy is truly the best option because students don’t have to worry that sitting on their test scores may hurt their institutional awards or decrease their chances of getting accepted.

You can obtain a list of test-blind, as well as test-optional, colleges at

Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a nationally recognized college expert, offers an online course—Savvy College Planning—exclusively for financial advisors.

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