Timothy Peck 4 min read 12th Grade, Standardized Tests

Test-Optional vs. Test-Blind Colleges: What’s the Difference?

Standardized testing continues to shift during the pandemic. With numerous spring and summer cancelations, and fall testing limited by social distancing guidelines, many students have been unable to get a testing date.

 

In response to this, many colleges are embracing test-optional admissions policies, including top colleges such as the Ivy League schools. To avoid any confusion in the admissions process, it’s important to know what exactly a test-optional school is—and how it differs from a test-blind college. 

 

In this post, we’ll be explaining the difference between test-optional and test-blind, and what these new policies mean for students.

 

Before we dive in, you may want to check out this complete guide to test-optional colleges in 2020-2021. You’ll get expert tips from one of our CollegeVine co-founders!

What Do “Test-Optional” and “Test-Blind” Mean?

 

Test-optional schools allow applicants to choose whether or not to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their application. That said, these colleges will still consider a test score, if submitted. In fact, if it comes down to two students with similar profiles, but one has a strong test score and the other doesn’t, the student with the test score will likely be chosen over the one without.

 

Test-blind schools offer a contrast to test-optional ones as they are not interested at all in students’ standardized test scores at all. If you submit your score, it won’t be considered, even if you scored 1600 on the SAT or 36 on the ACT. There are very few colleges with test-blind policies. The most notable test-blind school is Caltech, which has adopted this policy for Fall 2020 and 2021 applicants.

 

Top 20 List of Test-Optional Universities for 2020-2021

 

Below is a list of the top 20 schools with test-optional admissions for the 2020-2021 cycle, from the U.S. News and World Report‘s rankings of the top national universities

 

School Name U.S. News Ranking Location
Princeton University 1 Princeton, NJ
Harvard University 2 Cambridge, MA
Columbia University 3 New York, NY
MIT 3 Cambridge, MA
Yale University 3 New Haven, CT
Stanford University 6 Stanford, CA
UChicago 6 Chicago, IL
UPenn 8 Philadelphia, PA
Caltech* (test-blind) 9 Pasadena, CA
Johns Hopkins University 9 Baltimore, MD
Northwestern University 9 Evanston, IL
Duke University 12 Durham, NC
Dartmouth College 13 Hanover, NH
Brown University 14 Providence, RI
Vanderbilt University 14 Nashville, TN
Rice University 16 Houston, TX
Washington University in
St. Louis
16 St. Louis, MO
Cornell University 18 Ithaca, NY
University of Notre Dame 19 Notre Dame, IN
UCLA 20 Los Angeles, CA

 

Top 10 List of Test-Optional Liberal Arts Colleges for 2020-2021

 

Below is a list of the top 10 schools with test-optional admissions for the 2020-2021 cycle, from the U.S. News and World Report‘s rankings of the top liberal arts colleges

 

School Name U.S. News Ranking Location
Williams College 1 Williamstown, MA
Amherst College 2 Amherst, MA
Swarthmore College 3 Swarthmore, PA
Wellesley College 3 Wellesley, MA
Pomona College 5 Claremont, CA
Bowdoin College 6 Brunswick, ME
Carleton College 7 Northfield, MN
Claremont McKenna College 7 Claremont, CA
Middlebury College 7 Middlebury, VT
Washington and Lee University 10 Lexington, VA

 

Stay up to date as colleges and universities continue to shift and revise their admissions policies with CollegeVine. Our aggregated data sets let you search colleges by all types of factors, including their test policies. 

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Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

2020 List of Test-Blind Colleges

 

School Name Location
Cal State Fullerton Fullerton, CA
Cal Maritime Vallejo, CA
California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA
California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, CA
Cal State East Bay Hayward, CA
Cal State LA Los Angeles, CA
Cal State Long Beach Long Beach, CA
Cal Poly Pomona Pomona, CA
Cal State San Bernardino San Bernardino, CA
The Catholic University of America Washington, DC
Chico State Chico, CA
CSU Bakersfield Bakersfield, CA
CSU Channel Islands Camarillo, CA
CSU Dominguez Hills Carson, CA
CSU Monterey Bay Seaside, CA
CSU Northridge Northridge, CA
CSU San Marcos San Marcos, CA
CSU Sacramento Sacramento, CA
Dickinson College Carlisle, PA
Fresno State Fresno, CA
Hampshire College Amherst, MA
Humboldt State Arcata, CA
Loyola University New Orleans New Orleans, LA
Northern Illinois University DeKalb, IL
San Diego State San Diego, CA
San Francisco State San Francisco, CA
San Jose State San Jose, CA
Sonoma State Rohnert Park, CA
Stanislaus State Turlock, CA
UC—Berkeley (for in-state applicants) Berkeley, CA
University of New England Biddeford, ME

Should You Still Take the SAT/ACT?

 

Unless you’re applying to a test-blind college, you should try to take the SAT or ACT. A strong standardized test score will help bolster an application to a test-optional school and is a great way to differentiate yourself from the competing candidates. And if you don’t score well, you can always apply test-optional. 

 

If you have taken the SAT or ACT but are unsure whether or not you should submit your scores, here are some good guidelines to follow: 

 

  • SAT: submit as long as your score is within 60 points of the 25th percentile score for accepted students.
  • ACT: Submit as long as your score is within 3 points of the 25th percentile score for accepted students.

 

So, if the middle 50% SAT range for the school you’re interested in is 1330-1500, you should submit your SAT score if you got above a 1270. If the middle 50% ACT range is 28-31, you should submit your score if you got a 25 or above.

 

Should You Still Take SAT Subject Tests?

 

While many schools are test-optional for the SAT and ACT, some of the same schools are test-blind for SAT Subject Tests. Yale and Amherst, for example, are two schools that won’t consider Subject Tests, even if submitted. 

 

If you want to take these tests, however, and you have schools on your list that will consider them, it may give you a small boost. The importance of Subject Tests has declined in recent years though. A 2019 survey conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), found that just 1.9% of U.S. schools considered subject tests of “considerable importance.” They are even less important during this admissions cycle.

 

If you more questions about standardized test taking during COVID-19, check out our blog post FAQs About the Test-Optional Coronavirus Policies

 

Wondering about your odds of acceptance at your top-choice school? CollegeVine’s free Admissions Calculator can tell you your real chances of getting into your dream school—including test-optional and test-blind schools—and offer advice on how to improve them. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to get a jumpstart on your college strategy today!

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.