Test-score-optional schools are nothing new. There were always a handful of colleges that allowed you to opt out, but they were primarily progressive liberal arts colleges or less prestigious universities.

In recent years, however, more diverse and high-ranking schools have made submitting SAT® and ACT® scores optional, either forgoing standardized tests altogether or accepting AP exams or SAT subject tests in their stead.

The official reason — the one colleges promote in presentations and on school sites — is this gives students the chance to opt out of tests with a known racial, gender and socioeconomic bias, allowing for a more holistic admissions process and increasing diversity of admitted students. But it’s still unclear whether this holds true in practice. Individually, some schools are reporting an increase in diversity — Pitzer College in Claremont, California, says diversity rose by 58 percent (though it doesn’t define what it considers “diverse”) when it made test scores optional. However, a 2014 study of 180 selective liberal arts schools found no greater increase in enrollment among low-income and minority students when schools made standardized tests optional.

Who Wins With Test-Score-Optional Policies?

Matt Baker, a college admissions consultant at Riley Baker Educational Consulting, believes schools benefit from going score-optional, too. “Kids are sophisticated enough to look up a school’s average SAT or ACT score,” he says. “If they don’t have it and don’t need to submit it, they simply don’t. When only students who have the ‘right’ test scores are submitting them, the average goes up, which allows schools to appear more competitive.” In other words, schools are receiving only the strong scores, which boosts the overall average.

Often what’s good for the institution is good for the student; colleges are able to increase diversity, and students have more options.

Hanna Stotland, an admissions consultant familiar with nontraditional paths to top schools — she failed out of high school, got a GED and found her way to Harvard — acknowledges that schools want to improve their rankings and reputations, but thinks this can be a win-win. “Schools are making decisions based on what they think is good for them,” she says. “And often what’s good for the institution is good for the student; colleges are able to increase diversity, and students have more options. That’s positive all around.”

What Happens When You Don’t Submit?

Nonetheless, it’s common to fear that not submitting test scores will be held against you in the admissions process. Baker hears this concern often, but maintains that schools who go test-score optional are earnest in their policy. “I have not seen evidence of schools discriminating against students who don’t submit test scores,” he says “I had a student apply to Wake Forest with a 97–98 out of 100 average, tons of AP courses and great extracurriculars, but she scored a 24 on the ACT. Wake Forest’s average among accepted students is 28 to 32, according to the Princeton Review. She didn’t submit and they accepted her, no questions asked.” If you are a strong student and meet the school’s admissions criteria, then choosing not to provide your exam scores at a score-optional school will not count against you.

What’s Next for the SAT and ACT?

While both Baker and Stotland agree the test-optional trend will continue to grow, neither see the SAT or ACT exams becoming extinct. However imperfect the tests may be — there is not a strong correlation between SAT scores and freshman grade point averages — they allow colleges to compare students from schools across that country that vary wildly when it comes to academic rigor. They also provide schools, especially ultra-selective ones that receive more applications than they can manage, with a way to create a cutoff point.

It gets at a quirk of the American educational system: we have no national curriculum. “In peer nations, there are high school exit exams, such as the A-levels in the United Kingdom, that test all students’ mastery of the high school curriculum,” says Stotland. “That is not to say other countries have it all figured out, but the ACT and SAT exams are one of the few things that are the same from place to place — that’s the point.”

Are You Ready To Skip the Tests?

If all this is enough to make you want to scrap the SAT and ACT exams, check out the top 10 schools (organized by U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for national universities and liberal arts colleges) that are now test-optional or flexible.

  1. Bowdoin College
  2. Smith College
  3. Colby College
  4. Wesleyan University
  5. Colorado College
  6. Bates College
  7. Wake Forest University
  8. New York University
  9. Bryn Mawr College
  10. Pitzer College

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