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SAT & ACT Scores are Waived - What it Means for You and Your Applications

Emily Swenson
Emily Swenson
February 23, 2021
Colleges and universities are dropping the SAT and ACT application requirements. We'll help you figure out how best to proceed for your educational journey!
Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes

Recently, colleges and universities across the U.S. have decided to waive the American College Testing (ACT) and Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) requirements for fall 2021 admissions, and many are moving in that direction for fall 2022 admissions as well. But before you break out the cake for your virtual no-SAT party on Zoom, take a moment to read this post and find out what waived SAT and ACT scores really means for you.

Coronavirus, The Straw that Broke Standardized Testing

Obviously, the coronavirus was the main impetus in the new “test-free” or “test-blind” admissions policies that many colleges and universities have implemented. Testing was cancelled in March, April, and May of 2020, which did not leave enough time for students to take the exams for fall admissions. The College Board, which conducts the SAT, stated that 42% of students who had registered for the test were unable to take it in October.

But as much as the pandemic has been to blame for any number of policy and operating changes in the education sector, in the case of the SATs and ACTs, coronavirus only accelerated what has been a long retreat by colleges and universities. Even before the pandemic hit, more than 1000 colleges and universities had instituted test-optional admissions policies only considering test scores if a student includes them in their application. Community colleges have long abandoned test scores in the admissions process, primarily using scores to determine the class level to place a student.

The test-free trend in college admissions was already on the rise due to growing concern about the fairness of admissions testing. For years, the SAT and ACT have been criticized as outdated and a poor reflection of a student’s merits. Moreover, there has been increasing discussion about the socioeconomic bias in admissions testing and how these inequities exacerbate the racial and ethnic disparities in higher education.

Test-Optional Admissions and You

As the list of schools that have revamped their testing policies continues to grow, it’s important to consider that most of these schools have adopted “test-optional” policies. A much shorter list of colleges are test-blind and won’t consider your scores even if you submit them. If you plan to only apply to test-blind schools, you can relax and focus on other aspects of your application (see below). But the majority of students will have a big decision to make as they prepare to apply to college.

So should you still take the SAT/ACT?

Truly test optional schools will let you decide whether to submit test scores as part of your application. Even if you do decide to submit your test scores, they may not weigh as heavily in a school’s consideration of your application. You can also choose to take the SAT or ACT, but not release your scores if you didn’t do as well as you would have liked.

If you choose not to take the SAT or ACT or take the tests but decide not to submit your scores, it will not hurt your application if the school you are applying to does not require admissions tests. However, without the test scores, the other parts of your application - including your GPA, college essay, academic awards and achievements, references, and extracurricular activities - will become more important in the admissions process.

General consensus seems to be that if you have the option to take the SAT or ACT (you may not depending on where you live), then you should and decide afterwards whether or not to submit your scores. You should only include test scores if you think it will make your application stronger and further enhance your candidacy. It’s important to consider your full academic profile and the profile of the school to which you are applying when deciding whether your scores strengthen your argument for admission.

How to Create an Amazing ‘Test-Free’ Application

In the absences of admissions tests, college applications will still be reviewed holistically, but with a greater emphasis on a student’s academic achievements and other components of an application.That means your high school transcript will become the focal point of your application as college admission boards more closely review the finer points of your academic record, including GPA, grade trend, curriculum, and (if available) class rank. Colleges will also take the more personal or “soft” factors of your application into consideration. These factors include your list of extracurricular activities, personal statement, recommendation letters, and demonstrated interest in the school.

Your college application should demonstrate how dynamic you are as a student and as an individual. And there’s ample opportunity outside of test scores to make a strong case for your candidacy.

Your Winning Essay

First and foremost, you’ll want to continue to put the time and effort into your studies to boost your academic profile as much as possible. It’s also a good time to get work on your college essays - a compelling personal statement isn’t cliche or overly sentimental. Colleges prefer essays that are optimistic, sincere, and reveal something new about you that adds depth to your application.

Your Glowing Recommendations

Most colleges require a minimum of two recommendation letters - one from a guidance counselor and the second from a teacher. Make sure you build strong relationships with counselors and teachers, which will help them write a stellar recommendation. Also, it’s important to choose a teacher who can speak to your academic strengths. You shouldn’t seek a recommendation from your AP Lit teacher if you excel at math and are applying to a STEM program.

Your Excellent Fit

One of the strongest arguments you can make for your admission to a college is that you are the ideal student for that college. Students who can show a demonstrated and informed interest in a school tend to be more competitive applicants. You can show your engagement with a school in a variety of ways, including visiting the campus, reaching out to admissions officers, and applying early.

Your Exceptional Creativity

Finally, you should be as creative as possible in your application. While in truth colleges will assess your test-free application in much the same way as they did applications with test scores, it’s still unchartered territory which calls for thinking outside the box. Contact us if you'd like to brainstorm your admissions angles for a successful application!


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