Academic Tip of the Month – Test-Blind vs. Test-Optional

colleges adopting test-optional policies has some students breathing a sigh of relief. But before you completely scrap your SAT/ACT plans, it’s important to truly understand the policies of the schools to which you’re applying. There are important differences between “test-optional” and what’s called “test-blind.”

What does “test-blind” mean?

Some students assume that when colleges and universities go test optional, SAT/ACT scores are entirely removed from the equation. However, that’s actually only the case at schools that are test-blind since they don’t factor test scores into admissions decisions even if students submit scores. Hampshire College—which for several years was the only test-blind college in the U.S.—went test blind because, “we found through our own internal research that in addition to being biased, these standardized tests are poor predictors of success at Hampshire.”

Note that very few schools are test-blind: Loyola University New Orleans, Northern Illinois University, and Hampshire College.

A couple other points to note:

  1. The University of California plans to go test-blind for fall 2023 and 2024 (after first going test-optional for two years) as part of its transition away from the SAT and ACT.

  2. The University of New England is piloting a test-blind policy for one year.

  3. U.S. News & World Report currently does not include test-blind schools in its rankings, which may be why so few schools are fully test-blind. For example, Sarah Lawrence College was test-blind for several years but switched to test-optional in 2012 in order to qualify for a U.S. News & World Report ranking.

What does “test-optional” mean?

Test-optional policies are more of a gray area and can differ from one school to another. Most commonly, “test-optional” means that students can choose whether or not to submit SAT, ACT, and other test scores for consideration.

This is an appealing option for many students, especially those who are not strong test-takers but would otherwise be strong candidates. For this reason, test-optional schools tend to see increases in the numbers of students who apply, along with decreases in the numbers of lower scores reported, thus simultaneously inflating average test scores and making schools appear more selective.

With that said, students should always read the fine print. Some test-optional colleges and universities may still require test scores for out-of-state students, international students, and/or students applying for certain scholarships. Others may waive testing requirements only for students who meet a minimum GPA.

Furthermore, test scores can still be a way for strong test-takers to distinguish themselves. A majority of students applying to the most selective test-optional institutions still choose to submit scores, and many schools prefer to see scores if students have them.

The bottom line is that test-optional policies can be a great idea for students who are not strong test-takers but would otherwise be strong candidates. However, most test-optional schools still welcome test scores and consider them to be valuable components of admissions decisions.

You can check out a list of test-optional schools here—just make sure you understand the ins and outs of the policies of the schools on your list and how they’ll affect your chances of admission.

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