Imagine getting into a highly selective college — having never taken the SAT or ACT.
This feat is possible, as more schools are becoming test-optional and test-flexible every year. I have put together this list of my favorites — both to draw attention to the wide range of schools that are test-optional and test-flexible, and also to show how varied the histories, requirements, and exceptions are from school to school. This list is by no means exhaustive; there are a growing number of excellent schools with test-optional and -flexible policies. (For the latest list of all highly-ranked test-optional and -flexible schools, check out FairTest.)
These 15 colleges — all so excellent that I had to list them in alphabetical order — are a few that you should seriously consider if you’re thinking of applying to a test-optional school.
To find out everything you need to know before you apply to a test-optional school, read Test-Optional Colleges: A Guide for Prospective Applicants.
Overview: Agnes Scott, a small, selective women’s college in the Atlanta metropolitan area, went test-optional in 2009, after which the school enrolled its largest-ever class of first-year students: 264.
Why it's a favorite: During the six years I lived in Atlanta, I was amazed by the number of amazing women there who all had one thing in common: an undergraduate degree from Agnes Scott College. Agnes Scott offers the kinds of personal attention that both liberal arts colleges and women’s colleges are known for, with particular focus on producing well-rounded, confident graduates. Atlanta itself is another draw: Decatur is right on the border of the city proper, which offers a wide range of restaurants, art, music, and outdoor activities.
Requirements: Students who don’t submit test scores must either submit a graded writing sample with teacher comments or schedule an evaluative interview. Homeschooled and international applicants who don’t submit test scores must schedule an interview.
Overview: Bard College, a test-optional pioneer, has taken alternate admissions one step further, even embracing a transcript-optional path. Students may submit four 2,500-word essays (written on subjects chosen from a list of available topics) in lieu of submitting test scores, transcripts, and teacher recommendations.
Why it's a favorite: I have had the good fortune to meet several recent graduates of Bard College in the past few years. Bard is a great place for students who really want to take control of their education and go in unexpected directions; one recent graduate I know majored in electronic music, another in medical anthropology. Bard is recognized for fostering its students’ interests and for giving them guidance — but not too much structure — to explore those interests. The mission of Bard, in many ways, is to promote a love of learning for its own sake rather than as a precursor for professional engagement. This school may not be right for all students, but it’s a perfect fit for some. Every student must complete a senior project that serves as the culmination of an individual course of study.
Requirements: Bard is test-optional for all applicants. The school’s list of admissions requirements makes it very clear that tests are a secondary consideration, explicitly listing SAT and ACT scores under “optional application materials." Most schools that are test-optional have lengthy explanations of why they are test-optional and what the exceptions to the policy are; at Bard, tests are just another item on the optional-materials list.
Overview: Another of the test-optional pioneer schools, Bates adopted the policy in 1984 and has been a vocal advocate of the test-optional movement. Among the class of 2017, 36.7 percent did not submit test scores — a clear sign that Bates takes its test-optional applicants seriously.
Why it's a favorite: Bates College is another pioneer of the test-optional movement and has produced some of the most compelling research that test-optional applicants fare just as well academically as other students. From a curriculum perspective, Bates has what it calls its Short Term, a post–spring semester five-week term that allows students to do focused work on a single subject. Every year, several of the Short Term classes take place off campus, including courses abroad. Every graduating student must have participated in at least two Short Term courses.
Requirements: Bates is a truly test-optional school: No applicants, including homeschooled and international students, are required to submit test scores, and students who don’t submit test scores are not asked to replace those scores with any additional materials. International students who speak English as a second language are required to submit a TOEFL or similar test score to demonstrate proficiency in English.
Overview: Bowdoin has had a test-optional policy since 1969, making it the first major liberal arts college formally to abandon the requirement to submit an SAT or ACT score. The longevity of the policy also suggests that Bowdoin is highly experienced at making admissions decisions without the benefit of SAT or ACT scores. Bowdoin is also among the most selective test-optional schools, with an admissions rate that hovers right around 15 percent.
Why it’s a favorite: Since I’m a proponent of test-optional and -flexible admissions, it’s hard for me not to hold a special place in my heart for Bowdoin, a true pioneer of and fierce advocate for test-optional admissions. Bowdoin students tend to be bright, friendly, engaged, and athletic, the last of which often comes as a surprising departure from what people expect to see at a small liberal arts college.
Requirements: Students who opt out of sending SAT or ACT scores do not need to submit any additional information or materials. About 30 percent of applicants each year choose not to submit SAT or ACT scores.
Exceptions: All students, with the exception of homeschooled students, are eligible to apply test-optional to Bowdoin.
Overview: Brandeis announced its test-optional policy in 2013. The school provides several different test-optional methods of applying, including via alternative testing and the submission of supplemental, non-test materials.
Why it's a favorite: Brandeis has a campus culture defined in part by its mix of observant, religious Jews and cultural Jews, who together make up about half of the undergraduate student body — the most significant Jewish presence at any top-tier university in America. Brandeis is known for fostering interest in both international engagement and social justice and, of course, is only miles away from Boston, widely considered to be one of the greatest college cities in America.
Requirements: In lieu of SAT or ACT scores, applicants may submit three tests from an extensive list of SAT Subject Tests, AP Exams, and IB Exams, at least one of which must be in science or math, and one in English or social science. Alternately, students may submit a portfolio including one graded analytical writing assignment from 11th or 12th grade and one additional letter of recommendation from an 11th- or 12th-grade teacher.
Exceptions: Homeschooled and international applicants must submit an SAT or ACT score.
Overview: Colorado College has a test-flexible policy, adopted in part in an attempt to attract more minority and Pell Grant applicants.
Why it's a favorite: I’m a sucker for schools that offer innovative, experimental curricula. Colorado College has what it calls the block plan: Students still take four classes a semester, but only one class at a time, a three-and-a-half week class that typically meets for three hours a day, Monday through Friday. Students focus just on one subject, and professors teach just one class. Block scheduling allows students to take classes at remote locations (for example, to spend a few weeks in Hollywood for a film studies class). As an added bonus, the campus is close to the Rocky Mountains and just a few hours from Denver, Boulder, Aspen, and Estes Park.
Requirements: Colorado College has an unusually wide range of accepted tests; applicants must submit three test scores, but included among those allowable scores — in addition to a range of AP Exams, SAT Subject Tests, and IB Exams — are subscores from the SAT or ACT tests. One score must come from a list of quantitative tests, and one score from a list of English or writing tests.
Overview: Earlham joined the ranks of test-optional schools in 2011, noting on its website that “standardized test results have factored little in the overall evaluation of a student's ability to succeed in college and often do not accurately predict student success in college classes during the first year."
Why it's a favorite: I grew up about half an hour away from Earlham College, a small liberal arts college in eastern Indiana. It’s not particularly well-known outside of the midwest, perhaps not even outside of Indiana — but for me, it offered a first glimpse at what a small liberal arts college could bring to the educational experience. Earlham was notably founded upon Quaker principles: “Our educational values, shaped by Quaker perspectives, are as follows: truth-seeking, wherever the evidence may lead; rigorous intellectual integrity; the nurturing of an open, cooperative learning environment; the recognition of the ‘teacher within’; the merit of lifelong learning habits."
Requirements: Earlham is a truly test-optional school. Applicants who opt not to submit test scores are not asked to replace those scores with any additional requirements.
Exceptions: International applicants must submit either a TOEFL score or an SAT score.
Overview: Lewis & Clark introduced its test-optional policy in 1991 with a test-optional portfolio path, designed to have students “provide an academic portfolio demonstrative of the student’s intellectual curiosity, depth and breadth of curriculum, and overall preparation for college work."
Why it's a favorite: Lewis & Clark is at the forefront of the sustainability movement: It is the top-ranked college for sustainability according to The Princeton Review, and makes thinking about sustainability a core part of its educational mission. If you want a college focused on environmental sustainability — and one that’s nestled in Portland, a city that is also deeply committed committed to conservation and outdoor activities, Lewis & Clark is a great fit.
Requirements: Applicants who opt not to submit test scores must instead submit an academic portfolio that includes one sample of analytical writing, one sample of scientific or quantitative work, and two academic recommendations. Homeschooled and international applicants may apply using the test-optional portfolio path, though non-native speakers of English are required to provide proof of English proficiency.
Overview: NYU is actually test-flexible rather than test-optional, meaning that the school allows for a wide range of tests — and not just the SAT. NYU adopted its test flexible policy in 2009.
Why it's a favorite: I can’t even pretend to be objective here. New York City is my favorite city in America, and NYU is in one of my favorite parts of New York. In addition to the first-rate education offered by the school itself — which includes a great business school and the phenomenal Tisch School of the Arts — both NYU and the city offer students the kind of experiences you can only find in a world capital: unmatched diversity, great internship opportunities in nearly every industry, and access to some of the best food and greatest art you’ll find anywhere in the world. New York City isn’t for everyone — but if it’s for you, it’s hard to want to live anywhere else once you’ve lived here.
Requirements: NYU’s policy allows its testing requirement to be fulfilled by any of the following options: SAT, ACT, three SAT Subject Tests, three AP exams, the completion of an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma, or three IB higher-level exam scores. NYU also allows test scores from other international tests to fulfill its testing requirement.
Overview: Pitzer adopted a test-optional policy in 2003, and the school couldn’t be happier with the results. Since becoming test-optional, Pitzer reports having experienced a “58 percent increase in diversity, an 8 percent increase in GPA, and a 39 percent increase in applicants with a 10 percent increase in retention."
Why it's a favorite: I’m a sucker for idealists, and Pitzer College attracts students who want to make the world a better place. Students are deeply involved in community service and in working collaboratively. And any college with a weekly tradition of giving late-night study break snacks to its students — at an event called Snacky Snack — is good in my book.
Requirements: Students who opt out of sending SAT or ACT scores do not need to submit any additional information or materials. Pitzer assures applicants that “the admission committee makes no assumptions as to why some students choose to submit scores while others don’t. All students are given equal consideration in the admission process."
Exceptions: Homeschooled students, students who attend high schools that don’t give traditional grades, and students entering the joint BS/PhD program in Osteopathic Medicine are required to submit SAT or ACT scores.
Overview: Saint John’s has a test-optional policy for both its campuses. Its admissions are much more focused on determining whether students will be a good fit for the school’s “great books" curriculum, which is notably different from most undergraduate programs.
Why it's a favorite: Saint John’s offers a unique undergraduate experience. Students all pursue the same course of study, a great books–centered curriculum the relies entirely on primary texts. Because all students study the same texts throughout the four years, Saint John’s fosters an intellectual community based on a common learning experience. The exchange of ideas comes from different perspectives being brought to bear on the same texts, and students all graduate with an understanding of the works that are often considered the foundational texts of Western thought. (Just don’t expect to read much written by someone who’s not a dead, white male.)
Requirements: Because Saint John’s has such a rigid undergraduate curriculum, students should pay particular attention to the supplemental essay questions, which are designed to determine whether they are a good fit at Saint John’s. No additional information needs to be submitted for test-optional applicants.
Exceptions: Applicants who will not earn high school diplomas or are homeschooled must submit the results of either the SAT or ACT. Most international students must submit the results of the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, or IELTS; international students who are educated in English can opt for an interview instead of test-score submission.
Overview: Smith, a highly selective women’s college in western Massachusetts, adopted a test-optional policy in 2008. The college cited “evidence of correlations between race, household income, and test performance" as one of the reasons for the policy.
Why it's a favorite: My first experiences in western Massachusetts were in Northampton, and I quickly fell in love with the town, which has just the right mix of great food, interesting little shops, and, yes, the wonderful, inventive students of Smith College. Smith offers small classes and individual attention for its students, along with an open curriculum that encourages them to explore their interests; it was the first women’s college to have an engineering program and has a special program designed to educate exceptional nontraditional students.
Requirements: No additional information needs to be submitted for test-optional applicants.
Exceptions: International students are required to take some form of standardized test (that exact test depends on whether they were educated in English or another language).
Overview: Rochester adopted its test-flexible policy in 2012. Jonathan Burdick, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, explained that the policy was a reflection of Rochester’s holistic admissions, and that students who were successful on different kinds of tests had the potential to bring more diversity of thought to the university: “Many prospective students 'test well' on general standardized exams, and bring that ability to campus, while some are best at mastering specific material in subjects that interest them most, and bring that diligence and focus. Both kinds of students can thrive at Rochester, and both will do best when they find each other here and develop many ways to collaborate and challenge each other."
Why it's a favorite: I wasn’t expecting much my first trip to Rochester; I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful city on the Genesee River. Rochester has the nation’s first program in optics and an excellent music program, but its most innovative offering is its Take Five Scholars program which allows students to study, tuition-free, for either a semester or a year. Students pursue an interdisciplinary course of study that they propose, drawing on the expertise of scholars from a variety of departments. The program allows students a break from the intensive study sometimes required by their major or majors to explore an additional area of interest deeply.
Requirements: Applicants can fulfill Rochester’s test-flexible requirement by submitting SAT or ACT scores or “two or more results from SAT Subject exams, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, GCE, SE, AS- and A-level exams (in UK and Commonwealth countries), Gao Kao (China), and results from many other national secondary exams." All students are eligible for test-flexible admissions.
Overview: Wake Forest has been test-optional since 2008, and the school is very happy with the results. “Ethnic diversity in the undergraduate population increased by 44 percent from Fall 2008, the final year in which scores were required, to the Fall of 2014. Furthermore, there has been no difference in academic achievement at Wake Forest between those who submitted scores and those who declined to do so."
Why it's a favorite: In the mid 1990s, I first heard of Wake Forest’s policy of providing every student and professor with a laptop computer — a practice that continues to this day and is indicative of how seriously the school takes the responsibility of ensuring that students have access to great infrastructure and technology. Wake is known for having the intimacy of a liberal arts college, the resources of a research university, and the thrill of competitive Division I athletics in a single package.
Requirements: Wake Forest is test-optional for all domestic applicants. No additional information needs to be submitted for test-optional applicants.
Exceptions: International students whose native language isn’t English must either submit a TOEFL score or an SAT with a score of 600 or high on the Reading section.
Overview: Wesleyan is one of the newest members of the test-optional club, having formally adopted the policy in May of 2014. Wesleyan cited the beliefs that the SAT and ACT often aren’t representative of student ability, and that the tests unfairly favored privileged applicants, as the primary reasons for the new policy.
Why it's a favorite: Wesleyan is a quintessential selective liberal arts college; it has a diverse student body that is both politically and intellectually engaged. Classes are small and challenging. Students from differing backgrounds interact, intersect, and learn from one another. And yet it also offers the classic college experience of music and parties and fun.
Requirements: No additional information needs to be submitted for test-optional applicants.
Exceptions: Homeschooled students and students who attend high schools that don’t give traditional grades will still be required to submit an ACT score or an SAT along with two SAT subject tests.