Test Optional Colleges and Universities - #ACT or #SAT -Admission vs Enrollment

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

See https://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Optional-Schools-in-U.S.News-Top-Tiers.pdf for a list of test optional schools. This list is growning.

If a college or university is test optional, should I take the tests? Yes.

  • For smaller schools that look at the applications holistically, tests may not be critical.

  • For larger schools that are now going test optional, test scores are a way to separate students and make automatic decisions for the higher achievers. For example, if a university receives 60,000 applications, they do have a system for categorizing students.

  • Tests even for test optional schools are still valuable. MANY schools require a test for ENROLLMENT even if not required for ADMISSION. See the article from Vanderbilt University below.

  • FINANCIAL ASPECTS: Take the tests! At some schools, scholarships will be based on your resume including GPA and test scores. A glowing test score may provide you with scholarships.

Practice tests: The best way to #prep for either tests is to take a practice test, score it and analyze your results. The tests cover the same subjects but the layout and questions are significantly different.

Similarities: Both tests are 3 hours in length. Both have Reading, English/Writing, and Math sections.

Differences: The #SAT calls the grammar section Writing and the ACT calls it English.

The SAT has two math sections: a shorter No Calculator section and a longer Calculator section. The ACT Math section is all calculator.

The #ACT has a separate science section but the SAT has a science component within the reading section. Research shows a separate science assessment is valuable for those seeking a STEM degree.

While both tests are the same length in total, the ACT is more time sensitive. For example, the Math section is 60 questions in 60 minutes which is extremely tight. Therefore, strategies are necessary to make the best of a score by knowing which questions to complete and which questions to answer but not spend time on.

Do colleges prefer one test over the other? No

VANDERBiLT UNIVERSITY: Statement Regarding Test-Optional Policy for fall 2021 Applicants

Posted by Jay Watson on Saturday, June 20, 2020 in Admissions Life, General Information, Standardized Testing.

Vanderbilt University understands that families throughout the world are dealing with the very real and tangible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including, for some, the loss of employment, concern over their own or a loved one’s health, and the realization that the ramifications of the pandemic will be felt for months to come. 

To support prospective students and their families during the ongoing global pandemic, Vanderbilt University will not require scores from the SAT or ACT exams for students applying to enter the university in the fall of 2021.

The admissions process will be test-optional for all first-year and transfer applicants, including international and homeschool students. This test-optional admissions process will be in effect for students applying to matriculate at Vanderbilt in fall 2021 only. Proof of English proficiency will continue to be required for international students.

When applying to Vanderbilt, students will indicate on the application whether they wish to be considered with or without test scores. The applicant’s choice regarding test score submission will not advantage or disadvantage the application review. Vanderbilt will consider an applicant’s academic record, including rigor of coursework; SAT or ACT scores (if submitted); personal essay; letters of recommendation; the breadth and depth of extracurricular engagement; and other items submitted on a student’s behalf. If students self-report scores from AP exams or SAT Subject tests, these may be considered as part of the review process.

Beginning with students applying to enter fall 2021, Vanderbilt will implement a self-reporting testing policy. ACT or SAT exam scores reported on the application will be considered for admission evaluation purposes. However, official score reports will be required for all enrolling students.

Applicants who expect to play on one of Vanderbilt’s NCAA Division I varsity teams must abide by NCAA and Southeastern Conference eligibility regulations regarding the SAT and ACT.


  1. If I choose not to submit scores from the SAT or ACT, how will my application be reviewed? For students who do not submit standardized test scores, the rest of the applicant’s academic record will take on more importance. This includes the transcript, relative position in class, rigor of coursework, grade trend over time, and teacher recommendations. As always, Vanderbilt employs a holistic, context-aware review process which considers all additional components of the application, including the personal essay and required short answer, letters of recommendation, and breadth and depth of extracurricular engagement. 

  2. If I choose not to submit scores from the SAT or ACT, how does this impact Vanderbilt’s merit scholarship process? All applicants who apply for merit-based scholarships by the December 1 deadline will be considered whether or not test scores are submitted.

  3. Once I have indicated on the application whether I wish to be considered with or without test scores, may I change my mind? If you indicate on your application that you wish to be considered as a test-optional applicant, and you subsequently wish to submit ACT or SAT scores, you are welcome to do so before the application deadline, and we will consider them in the evaluation process. However, if you indicate on your application that you will be submitting ACT or SAT scores, and we receive the scores before the application deadline, you may not switch to test-optional consideration.

  4. What about international applicants? While international applicants will not be required to submit an SAT or ACT exam result, proof of English proficiency will be required. This can be achieved by submitting the results of previously taken SATs with a Reading Test score of 33 or higher, or previously taken ACT exams with an English section score of 26 or higher, or by submitting the results of a TOEFL, PTE, IELTS or the Duolingo English Test. International applicants who have been educated in an English-speaking curriculum for high school are not required to take an English language exam. 

  5. What about homeschooled applicants? Homeschooled applicants will not be required to submit an SAT or ACT exam result. Homeschooled applicants are encouraged to fully engage with the application platform so the admissions committee can fully understand the context of their homeschool environment.

  6. What about recruited Division I athletes? Applicants who expect to play on one of Vanderbilt’s NCAA Division I varsity teams must abide by NCAA and Southeastern Conference eligibility regulations regarding the SAT and ACT.

  7. Will the test-optional policy be continued for future admissions cycles? Currently, there are no plans to extend this policy beyond the fall 2021 admissions cycle (class entering Vanderbilt in fall 2021).

  8. Will students be able to self-report test scores for the SAT or ACT in future admissions cycles? Yes, self-reporting is a permanent policy change.

Tags: application, College Admissions, test-optional, sat, act


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