COVID-19 is continuing to transform the college application process in an unprecedented way. Now, many prestigious colleges and universities are announcing that the SAT and ACT will be optional for the the next class of applicants in 2021.
Which schools have announced they are going test optional?
The entire UC system has decided that applicants for the fall of 2021 and 2022 will be entirely test-optional, meaning no applicant has to submit an SAT or ACT. In addition, the UC regents have announced that they will go test-blind for California students applying to enter during the fall of 2023 or 2024, which means UC campuses will not consider test scores for California public and independent high school applicants; however, UCs will still consider test scores for course placement and scholarships. As of now, they have not announced such a “test blind” policy for international or out of state students. Though information is not yet available, we would also assume that home school students would potentially be permitted to submit test scores.
Several top-tier liberal arts colleges have gone test optional because of COVID-19, including Williams College and Amherst College, the top two nationally ranked liberal arts colleges. In addition, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Bowdoin, Tufts, and the Claremont Colleges will make the SAT and ACT optional.
Most Ivy League schools have yet to make a decision on whether they will go test optional. Currently, Cornell and (updated) Columbia have announced they will be going testing optional for 2021 fall applicants. Harvard and Princeton have also announced that subject tests are optional for students in the next admission cycle. The rest have yet to announce their plans.
To see the entire list of schools that are going test optional, and potential updates to these announcements, see Fair Test’s regularly updated list of test optional schools here!
What Does Test Optional Mean?
Just because a school is test optional does not mean it won’t accept an SAT or ACT score.
For example, the University of Chicago has been test optional prior to COVID-19 and it has continued to accept SAT and ACT scores from students who choose to submit them. If your scores reflect your level of ability, most schools still encourage you to send them. If they don’t, these scores aren’t required. Some schools may ask for an additional supplement of some sort, such as a video (in the case of University of Chicago), if you choose not to submit scores.
Test optional is different from “test blind.” Test blind schools do not consider test scores for any applicants. Only four universities currently have test blind policies: Hampshire, University of New England, Loyola of New Orleans, and University of Northern Illinois. The University of California has announced “test blind” policies that will take effect for in-state students in two years (for applicants seeking entrance during fall of 2023 and 2024).
Should I Still Take the SAT/ACT?
There are advantages to still submitting a test score. Because COVID-19 shut down schools in the middle of junior year, many students don’t have grades to show colleges that represent their ability. Some schools froze student’s grades to what they were before the pandemic hit, while others schools made all classes pass/no pass. Having an SAT or ACT score could help you show colleges your true potential so the schools don’t have to rely on your grades solely.
In addition, it will be really hard to stand out this year because of the pandemic. Students won’t have the usual application markers: no extracurriculars and no full junior year transcripts. If you are a strong test taker, an SAT or ACT score could help your application stand out. On the other hand, if you are not a strong test taker or are unable to take the SAT or ACT, these test optional colleges will not penalize you. Still, at least in the case of competitive colleges, admissions officers will be looking for something that does make you stand out: diversity you bring, challenges you’ve overcome, or other accomplishments you can share.
Can I Take the SAT/ACT Now?
The SAT and ACT have too much on the line to cancel their exams forever. They will find any possible way for you to take the exam whether that be online or in person with restrictive social distancing protocols. ACT is still scheduling test centers for the June test date, though only about 1/3 of the regular number of testing centers are likely to be open. ACT has also confirmed that at home testing will be available this year by early Winter. SAT has announced an extra national test date in September, and is currently registering priority students (those seniors without a test score) for the August exam date.
Possibly, colleges may extend application deadlines so that students can take the SAT or ACT later in 2020 or in early 2021 for their application. Schools may even forgo early decision so that students can put their best application forward in regular decision. We will have to wait and see.
What Will The Next Application Cycle Look Like?
Nobody knows for sure. But expect many universities to make AP and subject test scores not required. And we wouldn’t be surprised if SAT and ACT were optional at many schools.
The silver lining is that you are in control of your own application. If you believe a standardized test will make your application shine, or you have the time and potential to prep yourself to a better score, we encourage you to take the SAT or ACT. But if you are not a strong test taker, then chill out and focus on your essays and other aspects of your application.