Test optional vs. test blind: what’s the difference?

The growing number of 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 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: 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.”

In mid-2020, only a handful of schools were test blind: Loyola University New Orleans, Northern Illinois University, and Hampshire College. As a result of the pandemic, however, dozens more joined the list, which can be found here.

A few other points to note:

  • The University of California has agreed to go test blind through at least 2025 (after initially announcing a plan to more gradually phase out the SAT and ACT).
  • Some schools, such as the University of New England, are piloting test-blind policies for specified periods of time, although certain students—including international applicants, homeschooled applicants, applicants with GPAs below 2.5, and nursing and pre-med applicants—may still have the option to submit test scores.
  • For years, U.S. News & World Report did not include test-blind schools in its rankings, which may be why so few schools have gone 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. However, now that U.S. News & World Report includes test-blind schools in their rankings, more schools may be willing to explore test-blind policies in the future.


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.


Need more individualized advice?

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About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

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