The Ivy Coach Daily

August 23, 2023

The Ultimate List of Test-Optional Colleges

Students take a standardized exam with overlayed text that reads: "America's test-optional colleges have gone test-optional. It's not what it's cracked up to be. Students with top scores will always enjoy an advantage."

Previously Published on March 23, 2023:

The Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a new era in elite college admissions: test-optional admissions policies. While test-optional admissions policies existed before the pandemic’s onset, before 2020, most of America’s top colleges required the submission of either SAT or ACT scores for admission.

With test cancelations and administrative closures due to Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021, many top colleges adopted test-optional or test-free admissions policies — and, with the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle now underway, few have gone back. Many of these schools have announced that their test-optional policies will remain in effect for a couple of years or, in some cases, in perpetuity. So what exactly does this all mean?

What Does Test-Optional Mean?

Under a test-optional admissions policy, applicants are not required to submit an SAT or ACT score to earn admission. Students are given the choice of whether or not they wish to report their scores. It’s up to them to determine if their scores will help or hurt their case for admission and if their scores accurately reflect their academic prowess.

What Does Test-Free Mean?

Under a test-free admissions policy, which is rarer than a test-optional admissions policy, students are not asked to submit test scores — typically by order of the law. For example, the University of California schools — public institutions — do not permit the consideration of SAT or ACT scores in admissions decision-making due to a California judiciary decision.

Top Test-Optional and Test-Free Colleges

Below are the test-optional or test-free policies for the top national universities and liberal arts colleges. Less selective colleges with test-optional or test-free policies can be found through FairTest.

Top National Universities

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best National Universities”)Test-Optional or Test-Free Admissions PolicyCurrent Test-Optional or Test-Free Policy Commitment Through (if applicable)Test-Optional or Test-Free Policy Notes (if applicable)
Princeton University#1Test-Optional2025
Massachusetts Institute of Technology#2Testing Required
Harvard University#3Test-Optional2026
Stanford University#3Test-Optional2024
Yale University#3Test-Optional2024
University of Chicago#6Test-Optional
Johns Hopkins University#7Test-Optional2026
University of Pennsylvania#7Test-Optional2024
California Institute of Technology#9Test-Free2025
Duke University#10Test-Optional2024
Northwestern University#10Test-Optional2024
Dartmouth College#12Test-Optional2024
Brown University#13Test-Optional2024
Vanderbilt University#13Test-Optional2024
Rice University#15Test-Optional
Washington University in St. Louis#15Test-Optional
Cornell University#17Test-Optional or Test-Free (School/Program-Dependent)2024Test Optional: College of Arts & Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Human Ecology, Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, School of Industrial and Labor Relations; Test Free: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business – Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business – Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration
Columbia University#18Test-Optional
University of Notre Dame#18Test-Optional2024
University of California, Berkeley#20Test-Free
University of California, Los Angeles#20Test-Free
Carnegie Mellon University#22Test-Optional2024
Emory University#22Test-Optional2024
Georgetown University#22Testing Required
New York University#25Test-Optional2024
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor#25Test-Optional2024
University of Southern California#25Test-Optional2024
University of Virginia#25Test-Optional2025
University of Florida#29Testing Required
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill#29Test-Optional2024
Wake Forest University#29Test-Optional
Tufts University#32Test-Optional2027
University of California, Santa Barbara#32Test-Free
University of California, Irvine#34Test-Free
University of California, San Diego#34Test-Free
Boston College#36Test-Optional2024
University or Rochester#36Test-Optional
University of California, Davis#38Test-Free
University of Texas at Austin#38Test-Optional
University of Wisconsin – Madison#38Test-Optional2024
Boston University#41Test-Optional2025
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign#41Test-Optional
The College of William & Mary#41Test-Optional
Brandeis University#44Test-Optional
Case Western Reserve University#44Test-Optional2024
Georgia Institute of Technology#44Testing Required
Northeastern University#44Test-Optional2026
Tulane University#44Test-Optional2024
The Ohio State University#49Test-Optional2025
University of Georgia#49Testing Required

Top Liberal Arts Colleges

College / University2023 US News Rank (“Best Liberal Arts Colleges”)Test-Optional or Test-Free Admissions PolicyCurrent Test-Optional or Test-Free Policy Commitment Through (if applicable)
Williams College#1Test-Optional
Amherst College#2
Pomona College#3
Swarthmore College#4
Wellesley College#5
Bowdoin College#6Test-Optional
Carleton College#6Test-Optional
Claremont McKenna College#9Test-Optional
Middlebury College#11Test-Optional
Washington and Lee University#11Test-Optional
Smith College#13Test-Optional
Vassar College#13
Davidson College#15Test-Optional
Grinnell College#15Test-Optional
Hamilton College#15Test-Optional
Barnard College#18Test-Optional
Colgate University#18Test-Optional
Haverford College#18Test-Optional
University of Richmond#18Test-Optional
Wesleyan University#18Test-Optional
Colby College#24
Bates College#25Test-Optional

Test-Optional Colleges FAQ

If a college claims students are at no disadvantage for not submitting test scores, shouldn’t I believe them?

No, colleges are businesses. Businesses need customers. These schools want to encourage as many students to apply — even unqualified students — as possible to rack up those application dollars and lower their admission rate. While regrettable, colleges often don’t tell it like it is. For example, many schools claim to be need-blind when they’re need-aware. If they were genuinely need-blind, many schools wouldn’t ask students if they require financial aid on applications.

Are some colleges more honest than others concerning their test-optional admissions policies?

Yes, generally, schools that were test-optional before the pandemic, such as many of the top liberal arts colleges and the University of Chicago, are the more honest players regarding their testing policies.

Can students submit test scores to test-free colleges?

Test scores will not be considered for admission to test-free colleges. Some test-free schools will, however, allow students to submit SAT or ACT scores for various scholarships.

If a student can’t get a great test score, should they withhold their results?

Yes, while we’re all for students submitting top scores to test-optional schools, if a student genuinely can’t get a top score, we’re all for that student taking advantage of the school’s test-optional admissions policy. 

All of America’s top test-optional schools do admit students without test scores. It’s just not to these students’ advantage in the admissions process to apply without scores.

Are test-free colleges more honest than test-optional colleges concerning testing?

Yes, if a school is test-free, they really don’t consider test scores. For test-optional schools, until the school releases the percentage of students who get in with and without SAT or ACT scores since the onset of the pandemic, we at Ivy Coach will remain skeptical of their honesty — because we know better.

Ivy Coach’s SAT and ACT Tutoring

From atop our soapbox in elite college admissions, we at Ivy Coach have argued since well before the pandemic that under test-optional admissions policies, students with top scores will always enjoy an advantage over students with no scores. This stance remains our position today in 2023 — no matter what a college admissions office may write on its website to the contrary.

After all, the college wants students to apply. The more students who apply, the lower the school’s admissions rate will drop, and the higher the school will be ranked in US News & World Report in its influential annual ranking.

So, yes, students can apply with test scores, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be on equal footing with students who boast top test scores. It’s why we always encourage Ivy Coach’s students to aim for top scores with the help of our SAT and ACT tutoring.

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s tutoring or in discerning if you should submit your scores to a test-optional university, fill out our free consultation form, and we’ll reach out.

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