The Ultimate Guide to Test-Optional Admissions


Original Artwork - Julianna Russ

This is a chart full of local schools that have decided whether or not to go test optional.

Access to standardized tests, such as the ACT and the SAT, has become nearly impossible since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the College Board, 46 percent of SAT testing centers have closed, with 54 percent reducing capacity. Now, upperclassmen at Highlands High School may not have the chance to improve their test scores before application deadlines arrive. 

Fortunately, colleges and universities adopted new admissions policies in response. But what exactly do these new testing policies entail?

“[New testing policies are] actually broken down into three different categories,” explained Trinity Walsh, Highlands High School College, and Career Counselor. “With a test-optional policy, you choose whether or not to submit your scores. Colleges are going to look at them if you do submit them, but they won’t weigh them as heavily as your other factors. If you don’t submit them, they won’t hold that against you.”

She continued by discussing the second type, test-flexible policies. Walsh explains, “They’ll let you submit other test scores in place of an SAT or ACT.”  These can include AP exam scores, PSAT scores, or any other type of national standardized test. 

Walsh emphasizes that the third type, test-blind policies, are strict. Even if you submit your scores, admissions offices will not look at them. 

While it is important to understand the different policies seniors may encounter in the next few months, test-optional is the most common right now. Even before COVID-19, Walsh says the transition to test-optional admissions was on the rise.

“There are so many test-prep programs out there right now, test scores aren’t necessarily always reflective of students’ abilities.” Test score inflation has become a major problem in recent years, leading colleges to realize that test scores aren’t always the best indicator of whether a student will succeed at the collegiate level.

While test-optional policies have become commonplace at some smaller liberal arts colleges and private universities over the past few years, only now are the practice mainstream. Walsh argued this is largely due to the challenges brought by COVID-19. 

“Because students have had such a hard time being able to retest or even test for the first time, more colleges are moving to a test-optional model,” explained Walsh. During the last couple of years, she says she has observed a growing movement for more schools to go this route, and COVID-19 has pushed it to the forefront. 

Before deciding to go test-optional, students need to consider some important factors. Applying test-optional brings many advantages. More emphasis is placed on the parts of the application that shine, which is especially helpful if test scores don’t fully represent the student’s academic potential. Grade point average, the strength of schedule, activities, and essays are weighed more heavily in order to paint a holistic view of the student.

However, this route can also bring significant disadvantages. While admissions policies may be test-optional, this isn’t always the case for scholarships. Before a student decides to apply test-optional, Walsh reiterates that extensive research is key. 

“The biggest factor, overall, is going to be the need for scholarship money. Students need to research if colleges will need the scores to be considered for scholarships. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model in college admissions,” explains Walsh. She says students should find this information on the university’s website directly and recommends that students only apply test-optional if they believe their test scores don’t accurately reflect their academic potential.

If students are applying test-optional, Walsh strongly advises that they explain their circumstances in the “Additional Information” section of the Common Application. If applying to a school that doesn’t use the Common App, send the admissions department an email. Walsh warns, “If you do not communicate with the admissions office that you were unsuccessful in re-testing, they will assume that you chose not to do any additional testing.”

Below, students can find information about the 2020-2021 admissions policies of eight local colleges and universities. To find updated information about any school’s policy, head to, a large internet database with information regarding test-optional admissions.