What does test-optional really mean?


students taking test


The list of test-optional schools has expanded quite a bit recently, mostly because of the difficulties students are facing for test opportunities. ACT and SAT cancellations have been rampant due to COVID-19.

Colleges, not wanting students to have to exclude them from their college lists, have decided to go “test-optional;” some as a temporary move, just for the 2020-2021 admissions class. Other colleges have made the announcement to move permanently onto the list of colleges and universities that are test-optional.

However, all test-optional schools are not created equal. It is important for students and parents to understand each school’s expectations for applying, the exceptions for test-optional, and how the process impacts admittance into highly competitive programs or merit scholarships.

There are five main categories of test optional schools.


(True) Test-Optional

Colleges in this category are truly test optional. A student may apply without submitting test scores. The application will be viewed as complete and the student will be eligible for the same programs and scholarships as any applicant. Examples of true test-optional schools include Kalamazoo, American and DePaul.



Schools in this category really never considered test scores in the admissions process, before Covid-19 or even before test-optional became more common about five years ago. There aren’t many test-blind schools out there. In fact, there might be just Hampshire College.



Colleges that fall into this category allow the student to not submit test scores, but expect something else in return. Students are expected to substitute some type of academic assessment by which the admissions team can gauge ability. Examples of this might be SAT subject tests, advanced placement test scores, writing samples or additional letters of recommendation.

Lewis and Clark College, University of St Thomas, and University of Puget Sound are test-flexible schools.



In this group, schools will allow students to apply test-optional if certain minimum conditions are met, such as GPA or class rank cut-offs. Test-conditional colleges can also limit the policy to certain majors (usually not the most competitive majors such as nursing or engineering). Drake, Rowan and Sweet Briar are examples of test-conditional schools.


NEW-Test Optional

In this last category, colleges have recently adopted a test-optional policy. In some instances, the plan might be to only use the policy to get through the 2020-21 admissions cycle, in others, the colleges may be “trying it out.” The bottom line is, if you don’t know exactly what is needed for the application and what is included and excluded in the test-optional policy, make sure to ask!

Some colleges may not have all the information on their websites and may not have all the decisions made on the process. Keep asking questions until you get the answers you need.


If you are considering test-optional as a part of your application strategy, check the school’s test policy thoroughly and contact College Inside Track for an hour’s worth of free advice. Call the admissions office if you have additional questions.


Tiffany Kolb, the author, is a college consultant for College Inside Track