How Are Colleges Changing Their Policies on SAT/ACT Scores?

Bashar Hanna
4 min readApr 9, 2023

If you’re applying for college, chances are, you may be wondering if your SAT or ACT scores will have any weight on your acceptance. What you need to know is that the landscape has changed.

Post-secondary institutions are no longer putting a lot of faith in the results of these tests — and in fact, some are disregarding them altogether. Let’s delve into what is different and what it means for your chances to attend the college of your choice.

COVID-19 and SAT/ACT

Historically, institutions of higher learning relied on SAT and ACT scores as a way to compare applicants from different secondary schools. The tests were intended as a way to assess students more objectively, since classes and grading methods are not uniform across all high schools. The SAT was created in 1926, and by the 1950s, half a million students were taking the test every year. The ACT, developed by the company American College Testing, was introduced in 1959.

The 2000s saw the growth of a movement to make standardized test scores optional for college admissions. In 2019, only a slim majority (55%) of colleges required test scores for admission, according to data from the not-for-profit organization that publishes the Common Application.

COVID-19 changed the landscape even further. Testing sites closed around the nation to prevent the spread of the virus. Understanding that a large number of students did not have access to testing facilities, hundreds of post-secondary campuses became “test-optional” and started to accept applications without SAT or ACT results. These schools largely promised to treat all applicants the same, regardless of whether they had been able to sit a test.

Certain colleges went as far as to say the admissions panel would be “test-blind” and wouldn’t look at any test scores provided. Post-secondary institutions had to rely on other assessment criteria throughout the pandemic. This represented quite a switch — prior to COVID-19, approximately three quarters of aspiring college students submitted SAT or ACT test results with their applications.

A notable impact of testing sites being closed in 2020 was that some colleges saw a very large increase in the number of applications they received in contrast to previous years.

An enduring change

The lifting of pandemic restrictions and reopening of testing sites haven’t automatically resulted in college applicants rushing to include standardized test results with their applications. Common Application data shows that less than half of students applying early this past fall sent in test scores.

While a number of observers anticipated that colleges would permanently drop their SAT/ACT requirements, this hasn’t necessarily been the case. Some Ivy League campuses where competition for admissions is fierce, like MIT, have begun to require standardized test results again.

Having said that, quite a number of colleges have continued to employ a “test-optional” or “test-blind” procedure. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fair Test) reports that over 1,800 colleges continue to be “test-optional,” and this includes both public and private institutions.

What this means is that most of these schools have a “test-optional” approach and leave the decision to submit scores up to the student. A smaller number of the institutions will be “test-blind” or “score-free” — in other words, they pledge not to take any scores they receive into account. Furthermore, the bulk of these campuses intend to make these policy changes permanent.

The test-optional movement

The “test-optional” movement has been around for a while, since about 1970, and the Fair Test organization has been one of its biggest proponents. It has long been argued that the emphasis placed on standardized SAT and ACT scores puts many potential students at a disadvantage.

Not everyone does well in a testing environment, regardless of their potential. Compounding the problem is that certain groups of students have even more obstacles. Students whose first language isn’t English, whose parents don’t have a college education, or who have immigrated to the United States may be at a disadvantage when taking the test. People of color and those from low-income backgrounds may also face additional challenges in testing. Many families cannot afford tutoring to prepare their child for testing and thus increase their chances of getting a high score.

Choice to submit test results

Granted, determining whether to include test results with a college application can be difficult. There are definitely pros and cons when it comes to including SAT or ACT scores. Students should research the school’s testing policy and admission statistics to determine the best option.

Learning institutions that promote themselves as “test-optional” will not penalize an individual for omitting their test results. However, many admission consultants advise applicants that have acceptable test scores to send them anyway. Certainly, a good test score can help the student stand out from their peers.

The takeaway

The test-optional and test-blind policies that many universities have adopted is a boon for many students. Now, students don’t have to see a poor test score end their university dreams. A strong application rests on much more than a number.

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Bashar Hanna

Dr. Bashar Hanna has spent nearly four years as the president and chief executive officer of Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg University.