Should You Apply Test-Optional in 2021?

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Colleges of Distinction »

From campus tours to standardized tests, so many aspects of the admissions process were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As testing centers closed indefinitely last year, colleges began adopting test-optional policies for admission. Some schools have been shifting toward test-optional regardless of the pandemic. Not every school will remain test-optional, but if you have the opportunity should you take it? We’ll help you decide! 

First things first… What does test optional/ test-blind mean? 

Each school will have different fine print when it comes to their testing policies, but for the most part the differences are pretty self-explanatory.



  • Test Optional: This means students are not required to submit their SAT or ACT scores as part of their application. For colleges that have a test optional admissions policy, the applicant’s high school academic record is typically the most important assessment criteria. Some schools even allow students to complete an interview with an admissions counselor as part of their application. Test optional schools still accept test scores if the applicant wishes to provide them.
  • Test Flexible: This policy allows students to choose which test scores to submit for consideration. Schools know that not all standardized scores accurately reflect a student’s academic achievement and potential, so they give students the ability to put their best foot forward. Did you struggle with the SAT, but master the ACT? Submit those scores!  Do you have stellar AP scores? Show them off!
  • Test Blind: Schools with a test-blind policy  do not accept test scores as part of the admissions process at all. A school might have this policy in place as an effort to make the admissions process as holistic and equitable as possible. If your school has this policy, then your scores will not be considered.

Check with your prospective schools to see what test policies are available to you! 

If I don’t submit, am I still eligible for Financial Aid?

Most financial aid is merit based, which is determined by academic performance. For example, a notable scholarship program, the National Merit Scholarship award, is determined by a student’s PSAT, NMSQT score. Other institution based aid is determined by a student’s test scores, so you might be wondering if you’re still eligible if you don’t submit. The short answer is yes, but it depends. Some schools will evaluate a student’s financial aid eligibility based on other factors such as GPA. Other schools have adopted a completely test-blind policy when it comes to financial aid. Take Eastern Oregon University for example. In 2020, EOU went fully test-blind in order to benefit “incoming students and their families.” Now, eligibility for financial aid will be determined by a student’s high school grades, not their standardized test scores. 


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If I can submit scores, should I do it anyway? 

If your school is test-optional, you can submit your scores if you want to. Make sure that submitting the scores will add to your application, not take away from it. If a school does consider ACT/SAT performance, check reported data to determine whether you are a fit for the university’s selection criterion. Here’s what you can do if your school is test-optional: 


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  • Submit: If you are a fit for the criterion, submit your test scores and apply. A quick Google search can help you determine what the average test scores are for a certain school. If your scores are similar, then submitting them will add to your application.
  • Try again: If your test scores are not quite high enough, consider retaking the ACT/SAT, or don’t submit them. Instead, focus on other areas of your application, such as your activities resume, letters of recommendation, and an admissions interview.
  • Rely on your high school grades: Some students are successful in the classroom, but might not perform as well in a standardized test setting. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. There’s evidence that backs you up! Studies show that a high GPA can be a better predictor of college success.
  • Write an amazing essay: A tried and true way to make your application stand out is to write a killer essay. Don’t know where to start? We can help!

What are the cons of not submitting one, even if it is test optional? 

Some schools might be test-optional for admissions, but still require scores for financial aid eligibility. If this is the case with your school, you might not be considered for some scholarships. Check with the admissions department and see if there is any flexibility given the circumstances.

The college admissions process is stressful enough without a global pandemic, so give yourself credit for making it this far! No matter what you decide, Colleges of Distinction is here for you every step of the way. Check out our cohort of schools that are always putting student’s needs first.