Is the SAT Optional? Test-Optional Colleges in 2021

Most colleges require applicants to submit a personal statement, resume, transcript, supplemental essays, and recommendation letters. In the past, many have also required students to submit ACT or SAT scores. 

The global pandemic has profoundly impacted college admissions, however.

For the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, many colleges decided to go test-optional or test-blind. Others have temporarily or permanently modified their standardized testing policies.

Given the evolving role of the SAT in college admissions, is the SAT optional? Should you even take it? What do you need to know about test-optional schools in the wake of COVID?

Here’s what we cover in this post:

COVID, the SAT, and College Admissions

A large portion of U.S. colleges and universities have historically required students to submit test scores from either the SAT or the ACT. (Most colleges don’t prefer the SAT over the ACT or vice versa–they accept either equally.)

The big question, of course, has been the role SAT or ACT scores play in the college admission decision. How much weight have colleges actually been giving them? The answer: it depends.

Is the SAT Optional_ Quote 1 (1)

In a Common Data Set from 2019-2020, for example, the University of Notre Dame specifies the following:

  • Standardized test scores are “important” to the admissions decision (but not “very important”)
  • The university does make use of SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores in admission decisions 
  • The university uses the SAT essay or ACT essay for advising purposes only (but does not require it)

Such data sets are not available for all U.S. colleges and universities.  However, it is safe to assume that, if required, SAT or ACT scores can range from slightly to very important in informing the college admissions decision.

For more competitive, elite institutions–like the Ivy Leagues–these scores can be very important.

The chart below sums up the role of standardized test scores in college admissions pre-COVID. Most schools have placed considerable importance on test scores.

Test-Optional Schools_Is the SAT Optional?

Now, of course, the story is a little different. The pandemic has significantly impacted students’ ability to actually sit for the SAT (or ACT). Many of our students have faced endless test center closures and test cancellations.

In an effort to bring equity into their admissions process, many colleges have modified their test score policies for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. In fact, for this year alone, two-thirds of colleges have gone test-optional, meaning that they’ll accept test scores from students but won’t require them.

For some colleges, this change is only temporary. For others, it’s semi-permanent or permanent.

We take a deeper dive into how COVID has impacted college admissions in another post. For now, keep reading to learn more about test-optional colleges in 2021.

Test-Optional Colleges in 2021

Before the pandemic began, quite a few U.S. colleges and universities did not require SAT scores or standardized test scores for that matter. Now, more schools have either become test-optional or significantly modified their test score policies.

According to, more than half of 4-year U.S. colleges and universities will not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores. At the time of writing this post, 1,240 institutions are test-optional at least for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

You can find the full list of top-tier U.S. colleges and universities “deemphasizing” test scores in college admissions here, via

Historically Test-Optional Schools 

Here is a sample of U.S. institutions that were test-optional before COVID-19.

Sarah Lawrence College

Wake Forest University

Bard College

Furman University

Bowdoin College

Bryn Mawr

Smith College

Skidmore College

Bates College

St. Lawrence University

University of Puget Sound

Pitzer College

University of Chicago

Wheaton College

Mount Holyoke College

Wittenburg University

Wesleyan University

Hanover College

Trinity College

Hartwick College

Newly Test-Optional Schools

Here is a small sample of elite U.S. colleges and universities that have become test-optional (at least for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle) since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Brown University
  • CalTech University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • UPenn University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Yale University
  • MIT

We want to point out that test-optional does not mean test-blind (meaning that the school won’t even look at test scores if they are submitted). Here’s what MIT says, for example, about test scores for this admissions cycle, which are not required for only this year:

Students who have already taken the SAT/ACT are encouraged to report their scores with the understanding that they help us more accurately evaluate their preparedness for MIT, and with the knowledge that tests are only one factor among many in that process. 

What’s more, test-optional schools likely still require other standard components of the college application, including (but not limited to the following):

  • Essay(s)
  • Recommendation letters
  • Transcripts
  • Additional supplements (portfolios, essays, interview, etc.)

In some cases, these schools may place even greater emphasis on these components, especially those that can demonstrate a student’s academic promise. Some students may also need standardized test scores to qualify for certain scholarships, especially when it comes to athletic recruiting, and for advising or placement purposes.

Harvard, for example, is not requiring students to submit test scores for this admissions cycle. But it is encouraging enrolling students who did not submit scores to do so in the summer prior to enrollment:

Because standardized test results are used for academic counseling, placement, and institutional research, enrolling students who applied without considerations of tests will be invited to submit test scores over the summer, prior to matriculating at Harvard.

Test-Flexible Schools

In the past, some colleges and universities have required students to submit something in lieu of ACT or SAT scores. Once again, in the wake of the pandemic, more schools are becoming test-flexible.

These schools may permit applicants to submit AP Exam scores in relevant subjects. Still others may waive the SAT or ACT score requirement for applicants with a certain GPA, or require students to submit a graded academic paper instead.

Test-flexible schools are likely to have a wide range of policies and score alternatives. For this reason, it’s essential to check out the school’s website to know exactly what you need to submit to be an eligible applicant.

Should You Take the SAT?

Given the SAT’s evolving role in college admissions, should students even take it?

It’s certainly a valid question.

At PrepMaven, we do encourage students to still take the SAT (or the ACT, depending on which test suits their skills).

Doing so will allow them to keep their options open as they navigate future college admissions cycles, and our philosophy as educators is to give our students as many tools as possible to maximize their future opportunities.

Higher test scores will still give applicants an advantage at most schools. Students who have top grades and extracurriculars but have never considered a selective school before because of less-than-competitive test scores should certainly do so for this reason.

What’s more, many currently test-optional schools, especially selective ones, might eventually revert to requiring test scores. Some still look at test scores (even if they are required), too.

Others, like Harvard, might require scores after a student has accepted an offer of admission.

Younger students–i.e., freshmen and sophomores–should thus continue to prepare for the SAT even if the colleges on their list are currently test-optional. Just in case such colleges do extend these test-optional policies, however, students should keep prioritizing grades and extracurriculars.

Regardless, students should make sure they are 100% clear on the standardized testing policies of every college on their list. As these are also evolving, it’s wise to regularly check college websites throughout the admissions process.

Feel free to give us a shout if you have any questions!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.