If standardized tests fill you with fear, you’re in luck.
Students are no longer required to submit SAT and ACT scores to apply to a growing number of colleges — and not just ones you’ve never heard of. In the past few years, high-profile schools like the University of Chicago have joined test-optional mainstays like Bates College in changing their admissions policies to favor a more holistic review process.
Test-optional advocates argue that the exams aren’t good measures of students’ college readiness, can unnecessarily increase the stress around college applications, and don’t accurately predict success. And colleges that have nixed their SAT and ACT requirements benefit, too. They typically get more applicants and become more diverse after going test optional.
Scores on college entrance exams correlate with family income and education, and so for students from low-income backgrounds or underrepresented minority groups, advocates say requiring test scores creates a real barrier to access. But it also has a more intangible effect, according to Bob Schaeffer, the public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “Just having that number there… kids look at various guidebooks and they’re intimidated out of applying,” he says.
FairTest keeps a running list of more than 1,000 test-optional schools. In most cases, applicants can choose to submit their SAT and ACT scores if they think it will improve their applications — they’re simply not forced to.
“Kids love it because it gives them control over a piece of the admissions maze,” Schaeffer says. “It really becomes an option — and one that is very empowering.”
To be clear, many test-optional colleges do still ask students to submit exam scores before they enroll, because the data is used for research and placement. Other institutions are technically test-flexible, meaning applicants can select which kinds of scores to submit, or have admission policies that center around GPA or residency status.
To come up with a list of outstanding test-optional colleges, MONEY used data from the National Center for Education Statistics and FairTest to build an initial list of test-optional schools. We then narrowed that down by looking only at institutions that are featured in MONEY’s annual Best Colleges rankings, which are based on affordability, educational quality and career outcomes. The schools are ordered according to those MONEY rankings.
1. University of Chicago
Overall MONEY rank: 37
The University of Chicago announced its test-optional policy this past June, saying in a news release that it was intended “to enhance the accessibility of its undergraduate College for first-generation and low-income students.” Applicants from U.S. high schools are not required to submit SAT/ACT test scores but can do so if they feel it reflects their “ability and potential.”
2. James Madison University
Overall MONEY rank: 39
Standardized test scores are not required to apply to James Madison, which explicitly states on its admissions website that people who don’t send them in “will not be penalized in the admissions application, scholarship or Honors College review processes.” To help the college get to know them, applicants can submit a letter of recommendation, personal statement or other information about extracurricular activities.
3. College of the Holy Cross
Overall MONEY rank: 42
The College of the Holy Cross has not required test scores for admissions consideration since 2006. That’s because “your overall portfolio of academic experience (as demonstrated through your transcript) is more powerful than a single test or combination of tests,” as it writes on its website.
4. California State University-Dominguez Hills
Overall MONEY rank: 45
The policy at California State University’s Dominguez Hills campus has a caveat. Only California residents with GPAs of at least 3.0, or nonresidents with GPAs of at least 3.61, are exempt from submitting standardized test scores. Also, even if they’re not part of your application, the school does recommend you have SAT and/or ACT on file for “advising and placement purposes.”
5. California State University-Stanislaus
Overall MONEY rank: 49
6. Bates College
Overall MONEY rank: 52
Bates has been test optional since the ’80s, but students can still submit their scores if they want to. The college has studied its own policy extensively, finding in 2005 that there were “no differences in academic performance or graduation rates between submitters and non-submitters,” according to a news release.
7. Union College
Overall MONEY rank: 53
Union only requires test scores for homeschooled students and people applying to its 3+3 accelerated law or leadership in medicine programs. Everyone else can choose whether to submit their scores, which the college only recommends doing if they’re equal to or better than the middle 50% of applicants (1290-1410 for the SAT and 28-32 for the ACT).
8. Bowdoin College
Overall MONEY rank: 78
Bowdoin brags on its website that it was the first school to nix testing requirements — something it did five decades ago. Only applicants who were homeschooled or went to high schools without grades have to submit scores as part of the admission process. However, all students have to provide scores for placement and counseling before starting at Bowdoin.
9. Wake Forest University
Overall MONEY rank: 91
Admissions officers at Wake Forest say “numbers rarely tell the whole story,” so they prefer the interview process. The university went test optional in 2009. Students can submit their scores as part of their application if they wish, but they do not have to.
10. Wesleyan University
Overall MONEY rank: 111
Wesleyan has been test optional for most applicants since 2014 (online high school students, homeschooled students and people without traditional grades are exceptions). If you choose to send in your scores, they’ll be part of the holistic review process.