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Is Test Optional Really Optional?

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Man looking up with question marks in the background

The pandemic. It is here. Although the weather is nice, the sun shines exuberantly, and final exams are done, COVID-19 is still present. It is reshaping how we live our lives from every perspective including education. The fragility and inequities in America’s higher education system are more apparent thanks to COVID-19.

Despite all this, there are some positives to come out of the virus. With students lacking access to stable internet connections to complete virtual learning, student support services being reduced to ensure personal safety, and the cancellation of standardized tests and closure of test centers, the already marginalized populations around the world face even greater hurdles to access American higher education. One way colleges and universities can combat inequity in access is to eliminate one hurdle for these populations - standardized testings (in the form of SAT and ACT). Despite all the hurdles presented by COVID-19, the virus served as a catalyst for change in standardized testing and its role in university admissions (at least for one year).

Admissions Views on the SAT

Colleges and universities across America are ushering in test optional policies - some for the Class of 2021 and others for 2021 and beyond. Yet, others are going test optional indefinitely including all public universities in Oregon. According to Oregon State University's news site, Jon Boeckenstedt, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at Oregon State University said, “Standardized tests add very little to our ability to predict an individual student’s success at a university or college.” That being said, there will be some changes within the admission process for the Class of 2021 and possibly beyond.

In 2019, 51 schools went test optional according to 51 seems modest in comparison to the almost 200 who announced test optional policies this spring (2020). This phenomenal progress has COVID-19 to thank as a catalyst. “All told, U.S. News now lists more than 540 test-optional schools in the first tier of their respective classifications, including public university systems in California, Delaware, Indiana, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington State,” states a recent press release on It is important to check what the policies are and to whom they apply. For domestic students (US citizens and permanent residents), please refer to this list from Fair Test. For international students, please refer to this list by Sarah Loring de Garcia.

3 Types of Test Policies

Simply because a college/university goes test optional does not mean the policies are the same or even truly optional. It is important to note, test optional does not necessarily mean test blind. Test optional does not mean test flexible either. To help families understand, the definitions of each type of policy are below:

  1. Test blind - This policy does not require students to submit any standardized test scores.

  2. Test flexible - This policy allows applicants to submit various standardized test scores to support their application

  3. Test optional - Test Optional’ means it is not mandatory for students to submit their SAT or ACT scores as part of their application.


Should you take the SAT?

LAUNCH believes grades/academic achievement, academic rigor, personal statements/motivation letters, recommendations, and demonstrated interest/engagement will play a much larger role in the applicant process than in previous years. With one less data point on which to evaluate applications, colleges and universities will look to find ways to determine the best fit students for their university. Knowing this, we encourage students to apply to schools where they are a fit academically, socially, and emotionally. We encourage students to find schools that fit their values and where their gifts and talents will be seen, nourished, and encouraged.

Going test optional brings some positive results for parents and students alike. With less stress placed on test preparation, students can dedicate themselves to achieving their best success in the classroom and through their extracurricular activities. They can find more time to learn that second or third language, learn to play an instrument, conduct science experiments, do research over the summer, or engage within their community to produce positive change.