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Preparing for Test-Blind and Test-Optional College Admissions

COVID-19 has completely disrupted the college admissions process. Of the many shifts brought by the pandemic, the most significant change has been making standardized tests blind or optional by many colleges and universities, at least temporarily. To avoid any confusion, it is important to know exactly what test-blind and test-optional policies mean, which institutions have adopted them, and how to stand out in this new college admissions environment.

What is test-blind admissions?

With test-blind policies, colleges and universities will not consider SAT/ACT scores, even if submitted. As of writing this blog post, about 70 institutions have gone test-blind, including the following prestigious campuses: University of California (UC) system (fall 2022, 2023, 2024 applicants), California Institute of Technology (Caltech, fall 2022 applicants), and Pitzer College (fall 2022, 2023, 2024 applicants).

What is test-optional admissions?

Test-optional means applicants choose whether or not to submit SAT/ACT scores as part of their application. If submitted, these standardized test scores will be considered. As of writing this blog post, over 1500 colleges and universities have gone test-optional at least for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle. In fact, the top 20 national universities ranked by the U.S. News and World Report have adopted a test-optional policy (if not test-blind as noted above).

How many students have submitted test scores?

According to data released by the Common Application, 44 percent of students using their platform submitted SAT or ACT scores during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, compared with 77 percent the year before. The percentage was significantly higher at selective colleges. For example, among White and Asian-American applicants, 61 percent submitted scores to private, large, selective colleges and 64 percent submitted scores to public, large, selective colleges. The percentages were lower among underrepresented minority applicants, 40% and 49%, respectively. As more testing centers begin to open up, we speculate that a larger number of applicants than last year will take the tests and submit scores for this upcoming admissions cycle.

Should you take the test? YES!

We recommend taking the test for two reasons. First, as most colleges went test-optional or test-blind in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, they saw a large increase of applicants. Acceptance rates have plummeted to historic lows, especially at the nation’s best institutions. Simply put, it is getting even harder to stand out from an already competitive process. In particular, strong test scores will definitely help four types of students: who are applying to competitive colleges (e.g., Ivies or Top 30), who are applying to competitive majors (e.g., pre-med, computer science, business), who are applying for scholarships, and who don't have stellar GPA. A strong test score will bolster your application and give you an edge against other applicants

Second, without the standardized test scores as a key metric, colleges have fewer data points to make the admissions decision, resulting in greater unpredictability and randomness. For two students with similar profiles, the one with a strong test score will get admitted because the test score gives colleges greater confidence about student academic capability.

Seniors, take the test. You can always choose not to submit scores if the results don’t go your way. We recommend submitting the score if you scored at least within 20 points for SAT or 2 points for ACT below the respective 25th percentile of a college’s admitted applicants. For example, the 25th percentile of admitted students’ SAT scores for Fall 2021 at the University of Southern California was 1410. If you scored around 1390, you should submit it. The 25th percentile of admitted students’ ACT scores for Fall 2021 at New York University was 31. If you scored around 29, you should submit it.

Sophomores and juniors should prepare for PSAT this fall. PSAT will help you decide and plan for SAT or ACT later on depending on how confident you feel about the PSAT. Having a strong PSAT or SAT/ACT scores will also help you secure seats at competitive pre-college summer programs.

Below is a summary of the test-blind or test-optional policies for Fall 2022 applicants (i.e., students who expect to begin college in the fall of 2022) at the Top 50 National Universities and Top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges ranked by the U.S. News and World Report.

Top 50 National Universities

  • Princeton University, 1, Test Optional

  • Harvard University, 2, Test Optional

  • Columbia University, 3, Test Optional

  • MIT, 4, Test Optional

  • Yale University, 4, Test Optional

  • Stanford University, 6, Test Optional

  • University of Chicago, 6, Test Optional

  • University of Pennsylvania, 8, Test Optional

  • Caltech, 9, Test Blind

  • Johns Hopkins University, 9, Test Optional

  • Northwestern University, 9, Test Optional

  • Duke University, 12, Test Optional

  • Dartmouth College, 13, Test Optional

  • Brown University, 14, Test Optional

  • Vanderbilt University, 14, Test Optional

  • Rice University, 16, Test Optional

  • Washington University in St. Louis, 16, Test Optional

  • Cornell University, 18, Test Optional

  • University of Notre Dame, 19, Test Optional

  • UCLA, 20, Test Blind

  • Emory University, 21, Test Optional

  • UC Berkeley, 22, Test Blind

  • Georgetown University, 23, Not Yet Announced

  • University of Michigan Ann Arbor, 24, Test Optional

  • University of Southern California, 24, Test Optional

  • Carnegie Mellon University, 26, Test Optional

  • University of Virginia, 26, Test Optional

  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 28, Test Optional

  • Wake Forest University, 28, Test Optional

  • New York University, 30, Test Optional

  • Tufts University, 30, Test Optional

  • UC Santa Barbara, 30, Test Blind

  • University of Florida, 30, SAT/ACT Required

  • University of Rochester, 34, Test Optional

  • Boston College, 35, Test Optional

  • Georgia Tech, 35, SAT/ACT Required

  • UC Irvine, 35, Test Blind

  • UC San Diego, 35, Test Blind

  • UC Davis, 39, Test Blind

  • College of William & Mary, 39, Test Optional

  • Tulane University, 41, Test Optional

  • Boston University, 42, Test Optional

  • Brandeis University, 42, Test Optional

  • Case Western Reserve University, 42, Test Optional

  • University of Texas at Austin, 42, Test Optional

  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, 42, Test Optional

  • University of Georgia, 47, SAT/ACT Required

  • University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, 47, Test Optional

  • Lehigh University, 49, Test Optional

  • Northeastern University, 49, Test Optional

  • Pepperdine University, 49, Test Optional

  • University of Miami, 49, Test Optional

Top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges

  • Williams College, 1, Test Optional

  • Amherst College, 2, Test Optional

  • Swarthmore College, 3, Test Optional

  • Pomona College, 4, Test Optional

  • Wellesley College, 4, Test Optional

  • Bowdoin College, 6, Test Optional

  • Claremont McKenna College, 6, Test Optional

  • United States Naval Academy, 6, Not Yet Announced

  • Carleton College, 9, Test Optional

  • Hamilton College, 9, Test Optional

  • Middlebury College, 9, Test Optional

  • Washington and Lee University, 9, Test Optional

  • Grinnell College, 13, Test Optional

  • Vassar College, 13, Test Optional

  • Colby College, 15, Test Optional

  • Davidson College, 15, Test Optional

  • Haverford College, 15, Test Optional

  • Smith College, 15, Test Optional

  • United States Military Academy, 15, Not Yet Announced

  • Colgate University, 20, Test Optional

  • Wesleyan University, 20, Test Optional

  • Barnard College, 22, Test Optional

  • Bates College, 22, Test Optional

  • University of Richmond, 22, Test Optional

  • Colorado College, 25, Test Optional

  • Harvey Mudd College, 25, Test Optional


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