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