Do I have to take the SAT or ACT?

With so many schools going test optional, do you still need a standardized test score? The answer is yes.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports that 1060 college and universities no longer require the SAT or ACT for admission. But there are hundreds of colleges that still do. And even among those that are test optional, their practices vary. I always recommend talking directly to an admission counselor at the college you are applying to get both their policy and to clarify how they put that policy into practice.

Some test optional (TO) colleges still require an SAT or ACT for their scholarship competitions. Other TO colleges and universities may still require it for direct admission into certain competitive majors or honors programs. It is important to not only research the college’s admissions process but also check scholarship and major criteria.

What has been difficult is knowing how a TO school will use your test data if they receive it. Some colleges require you specifically ask for it not to be used. Some colleges will still use it if submitted. Make sure your scores are not on your high school transcript if you do not want them to be part of your official application.

All students should take at least one standardized test. If you can afford it, take both the SAT and ACT at least once. They test different concepts and subjects. Some students find they perform better on one than the other. Take the PSAT or the PreACT in the fall of 10th grade if your high school allows, but definitely by fall of 11th grade. Typically one of these tests is offered at your high school but check with your school counselor if you haven’t heard how to register or when it’s offered.

Colleges license your data from these testing agencies. They will then market their schools and programs to you. While this will significantly increased the email in your inbox—it will also allow you to learn about colleges that offer your career interests and are a good fit for your academic profile. You may get invited to scholarships competitions or invited to apply for specific programs. Read the mail, digital and paper, that colleges send you. A great opportunity may lie in those messages.

Before you take the PSAT or PreACT do some preparation. You can access free test prep offered by College Board in partnership with Khan Academy at or ACT’s to possibly improve your score. Continue that preparation before each additional test to increase your comfort with the exam.

You are more than a score. But putting your best foot forward with a strong score can be helpful. Knowing when and how to share that score data can help strengthen your candidacy. Talk to your school counselor, the college’s admission staff, or to Coffman Consulting if you need advice and guidance on this matter.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

%d bloggers like this: