The 2023-2024 Test-Optional Almanac
Your complete guide to all things test-optional, test-blind, and test-free
Definitions of test-optional, test-blind, and test-free
We break down what each of these similar but different terms mean.See Definitions
Common myths about test-optional policies
Double check you know how each of these policies plays out for 2023 applicants.Get Facts
Pros & cons of applying test-optional
Aren't sure if it is the right decision for you? Start here.Is Test Optional For Me?
A complete guide to test-optional colleges for the Class of 2024
Are any of my top 10 schools test-optional this year?View Test Optional Schools
A complete list of test-free colleges for the Class of 2024
Check here to see who is test-free this year.View Test Free Schools
Breaking it down: test-optional, test-blind, and test-free
Under a test-optional policy, colleges still welcome test scores from students who choose to submit them and consider them a valuable data point and part of the review process if testing is available. At the same time, they are confident in reviewing a file without a test score and still rendering a fair decision—in other words, students without scores are not disadvantaged.
Test-blind or test-free
Test-blind and test-free are synonyms! If a school is test-free, it means they will not consider standardized testing in their application review. Even if you have a 36 on the ACT, or a 1600 on the SAT, and you send it to them, they will not consider it as a part of your file.
Test-free policies are far more rare than test optional. Notable schools with test-free policies include the University of California system, the California State University system, Catholic University, and Loyola University New Orleans. Caltech and Reed have implemented test-free pilot programs, as has Cornell University for three of its colleges – the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), the Department of Architecture, Art, & Planning, and the SC Johnson College of Business.
Common myths about test-optional policies
“Test optional is a new concept.”
False. Test-optional admissions policies have been around for decades; Bowdoin College was the first to move to test optional more than 50 years ago, in 1969. Historically, many of the other colleges that have adopted such policies have been small liberal arts colleges like Bowdoin, though in recent years, a number of larger schools have also become test optional, like American University and The George Washington University. Four years ago, the University of Chicago made major waves when they moved to test optional; they were the most selective college to ever make the leap.
“All colleges are test optional now.”
False. While the majority of colleges did make the move for 2021, there were some notable exceptions, like the Florida State University system. In the past year or two, some universities that were previously test-optional (like MIT and Georgia State) have announced that they will return to requiring standardized testing. For a complete (and regularly updated) list of test-optional schools, see below.
“Test scores don’t matter anymore.”
False. A school that is test optional will absolutely still consider a student’s standardized test scores, and those scores can be valuable tools for admissions officers. So who should still send their scores? We would encourage any student who has achieved a score in or above the average range of admitted students to submit scores. A strong score can provide important information that supports a student’s academic work and their growth and achievement across time. The role of standardized tests has always been to support and contextualize the work that students are doing in the classroom, and that will continue to be true.
“The college I want to attend is test-optional now, so getting in will be a breeze.”
False. While more students may feel they can now apply to certain schools, that does not mean the school is going to admit more students or change their overall admissions practices. Indeed, since the mass move to test optional, we have seen increases in application pools at selective colleges, in some cases dramatic ones, resulting in the lowest acceptance rates in history at many schools. Ultimately, a selective school will remain just as selective, whether or not they require the SAT or ACT. In some cases, they may even become more selective, as the pool of qualified applicants expands.
Students who choose not to submit scores should also keep in mind that if they don’t submit testing, the other aspects of their applications (academic profile, extracurricular life, essays, recommendations) will be weighed more heavily. This approach is evidenced in Cornell’s original statement when they announced their test optional policy:
Cornell readers will consider with increased scrutiny their other application documents, looking for different evidence of excellent academic preparation, including:
- challenging courses and excellent grades in each secondary school (high school) context. Note: there will be no negative interpretation for schools and students who have had only pass/fail or similar grading options during this current term;
- evidence of commitment and effort to pursuing other challenging learning experiences;
- results from other kinds of secondary, college-preparatory, and university-qualifying testing where available and verifiable;
- care, craft, and authenticity in their writing submissions;
- and wherever practical and available, details, insight, and analysis from secondary school counselors and teachers.
In other words, Cornell still has just as rigorous a review process as it always does; if and when a student doesn’t submit the SAT or ACT, admissions officers will simply be shifting how they weigh different components of the application and evidence of intellectual vitality.
Should I apply test-optional?
In the past few years, we have seen test-optional students achieve success in the college admissions process, just as we saw students with test scores do well. Overall, colleges received test-optional applicants in large numbers, and they admitted many of those applicants. We anticipate that applying test optional will remain a viable option for some students, depending on their college lists, their test results, and their academic profiles.
In the fall of 2021, the Common App released a report with some more general data on test-optional applicants, revealing that only 43% of students reported a test score on their application in 2021-22, down from 77% the year before. Some trends within this report include:
- The researchers noted “far higher” score-reporting rates for students in affluent areas, as determined by zip code.
- First-generation and underrepresented minority students were less likely to report scores than their peers.
- 24% of students reported scores to some, but not all, of their schools.
- Reporting rates were highest in Midwestern and Southern states.
- More selective institutions (both public and private) were more likely to receive test scores.
Of the schools who have released test-optional admissions data about the previous admissions cycle, there was indeed sometimes variation between schools in terms of how test optional applicants seemed to fare relative to students who submitted test scores. For example:
- At Tufts University, 57% of ED1 applicants did not submit test scores; 56% of admitted students did not have test scores.
- At Lehigh University, 47% of applicants did not submit test scores; 42% of admitted students did not have test scores.
- Takeaway: The apparent match between the proportion of applicants who were test-optional and the proportion of admitted students who were test-optional suggests that test-optional applicants were truly not penalized at these universities.
- At the University of Pennsylvania, 38% of ED applicants applied without test scores, and 24% of admitted students did not have scores.
- Takeaway: The Penn ED pool was slightly less favorable to students without test scores. However, the Early Decision pool is significantly smaller than the Regular Decision and thus provides limited data about Penn’s overall process.
- At Trinity College, which has been test optional since 2015, nearly 80% of applicants applied without scores, and the pool of admitted students reflected that number.
- Takeaway: Colleges that had already made the change to test-optional review for philosophical rather than pandemic-based reasons were especially well equipped for test-optional review.
Other schools released their total number of test-optional admits, but not the full statistics of the pool. For example, Emory University reported that 31% of admitted students were test optional. At Boston College, 39% of admitted students were test optional. In these cases, while we lack additional data about the number of applicants who didn’t send scores, we can see that the majority of admitted students did send an ACT or SAT.
Overall, most colleges have not reported their test-optional statistics and may not ever do so unless it becomes an included question in the Common Data Set or it’s a number they wish to proactively publicize in their admissions-related press releases. So how should students decide when to submit tests?
When considering whether to apply test optional, ask yourself the following questions:
- How does my standardized test score fit with the story my transcript tells?
- Would my academic profile benefit from a score in some way?
- Supporting an upward trajectory
- Corroborating level of rigor of my courses/high school
- Supporting an application from a new/lesser known high school
- Are my test results in the middle 50% range of admitted students at my colleges of interest?
- How did test-optional applicants from my high school fare at my colleges of interest last year? (Note: You may need to ask your guidance counselor for this information, since platforms like Naviance, SCOIR, and Maia Learning do not yet specify test optional results in scattergrams and admissions statistics.)
These questions can provide a framework for your testing decisions.
Who isn’t test optional?
The majority of colleges and universities in the United States remained test optional through the 2022-23 application cycle. Many have already announced that they will remain so through 2024, and we expect more announcements along those lines to come.
Notable exceptions include:
- Auburn University (for students with below a 3.6 GPA)
- Florida A&M University
- Florida Atlantic University
- Florida Gulf Coast University
- Florida International University
- Florida Polytechnic University
- Florida State University
- Georgetown University (requires full testing history)
- Georgia Tech
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- New College of Florida
- Purdue University
- University of Central Florida
- University of Florida
- University of Georgia
- University of North Florida
- University of South Florida
- University of Tennessee
- University of West Florida
- West Point (students may submit PSAT in lieu of ACT or SAT)
Many of the colleges and universities with current test optional policies are piloting test optional programs through the end of 2023. As a result, testing requirements for the class of 2024 remain unknown in many cases. While we expect that a large group of colleges will decide to remain test optional — ultimately, it helped them boost application numbers — we don’t yet know exactly which colleges will extend their policies.
For a complete list of colleges that are test optional, visit fairtest.org.
Test-free colleges for the Class of 2024
The following list of schools are known to be test-free for the class of 2024:
- Cal State system
- Catholic University
- Cornell University — CALS, Business School, Architecture ONLY
- Dickinson College
- Hampshire College
- Loyola University New Orleans
- Pitzer College
- Reed College
- University of California system (all campuses)
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