Test-Optional Trend Grows Among Top Colleges

standarized test gradient

We surveyed more than 800 students regarding standardized testing and yielded the following insights:

Niche users reporting SAT/ACT as their biggest college application concern21%
Niche users very satisfied with their SAT/ACT scores22%
Niche users that believe neither the SAT nor ACT measure how smart people are82%
Niche users that believe the SAT/ACT is the most important factor of whether you get into a good school or not15%

As seen above, when it comes to college application concerns, 21 percent of Niche users report SAT/ACT scores as their biggest worry. However, at test-optional schools, it’s possible to start college without ever taking a standardized test.

Test-Optional Colleges: "22 percent of Niche users are very satisfied with their SAT/ACT scores."

The SAT and ACT were created to help determine whether students were ready for the workload and academics of college. Yet, only 22 percent of Niche users report being very satisfied with their SAT/ACT scores. More and more traditional colleges—and even some universities—are becoming test-flexible or test-optional, meaning applicants don’t have to submit their SAT/ACT scores or even have to take the SAT or ACT.

Test-Optional vs. Test-Flexible

Schools that DON’T require any test scores in the admissions process
Schools that allow students to choose to submit other scores like AP and International Baccalaureate exams (as substitution for SAT/ACT) 

Reputation of Test-Optional Colleges

While no Ivy League institutions are yet test-optional, students can still get a quality education by going to a top-tier test-optional school. In fact, just because these schools are test-optional, doesn’t mean they attract less-than-stellar students or are poor in reputation.

Test-Optional Colleges: "More and more high-profile universities are going test-optional."

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, comes in at No. 13 in Niche’s 2015 ranking of Best Overall Colleges. Other test-optional schools that show up in the top 100 include Wesleyan University (No. 29), Hamilton College (No. 52), Colorado College (No. 59), and Wake Forest University (No. 78). So being a test-optional school doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a school that lacking in academic reputation and quality, especially given that more and more high-profile universities are going this route.

For those students that tear their hair out over standardized tests, test-optional schools may be a good option, especially when 82 percent of Niche users believe neither the SAT nor ACT measure how smart people are, and only 15 percent believe it’s the most important factor of whether you get into a good school or not.

Best Test-Optional Colleges

Here’s a look at some high-ranking test-optional colleges.

Niche Overall Grade
A+Bates CollegeLewistonME1,753
A+Bowdoin CollegeBrunswickME1,831
A+Brandeis UniversityWalthamMA3,563
A+Colorado CollegeColorado SpringsCO1,938
A+Hamilton CollegeClintonNY1,868
A+Michigan State UniversityEast LansingMI34,196
A+Smith CollegeNorthamptonMA2,643
A+Wesleyan UniversityMiddletownCT2,932

Click here for a full list of test-optional colleges.

The Bottom Line

The University of Rochester offered this reasoning when they adopted the policy in 2012: “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.” The crux of the test-optional movement is recognition that not every outstanding student is an outstanding test taker.