As more and more colleges go test optional, you might be wondering if you need to sit for the SAT or ACT at all. Schools that are test optional do not require standardized test scores as part of a complete application. Instead, you have the chance to decide for yourself if your scores accurately reflect your abilities and potential to excel in college.

Studying for SAT scholarships

Test Optional? You Should Still Take the SAT/ACT.

Even if every school on your college list is test optional, it’s still a smart idea to take—and prep for!—at least one standardized test.

For one, “optional” doesn’t mean that that colleges won't consider your test scores if you submit them. Without them, greater weight is given to other aspects of your application such as your transcript, essay, extracurricular and letters of recommendation. If you’re happy with your scores, go ahead and include with them your application.

Beyond getting in, your test scores could qualify you for merit-based scholarships (often a separate application process). Higher test scores can lead to more scholarship dollars, which mean more options for you!

Better Scores Can Earn You Big Awards

Higher scores can increase a student’s desirability in the eyes of financial aid officers and consequently increase the size of the aid package that student is offered. In fact, standardized test scores (along with GPA and rigor of coursework) may determine who will receive merit scholarships. Some schools even give out guaranteed scholarships to students whose scores meet a minimum threshold.

Sample List of Merit-based Scholarships 

School NameSAT Scores* 
(pre-redesign)
ACT ScoresGPAAdmit RateMerit Award**
Dickinson College 1280 30 NR 48% $17,248
Emory University 1365 31 3.69 26% $21,345
Hobart and William Smith Colleges 1230 29 3.41 50% $25,000
Lafayette College 1275 29 3.47 34% $20,000
Quinnipiac University 1110 25 3.40 66% $17,000
Saint Louis University 1210 28 3.83 60% $15,643
Santa Clara University 1300 30 3.67 49% $16,659
St. John's University 1100 25 3.40 63% $12,918
Texas Christian University 1180 27 NR 49% $15,535
University of Miami 1320 30 4.30 38% $17,841
Villanova University 1310 30 3.87 49% $10,464
Wofford College 1165 27 3.54 77% $18,874

*Critical Reading + Math
**Average merit award for qualifying individuals.

The Bottom Line

Even if you don’t need test scores for your college application, you will likely need them for most of the scholarship applications you fill out, including those for outside scholarships that are not affiliated with your college but sponsored by community organizations or foundations.

Kal Chany, author of our book Paying For College Without Going Broke, explains, “Nothing can change a student’s fortune faster than a big increase on the SAT.” Why? While it takes four years to accumulate all those great grades on your high school transcripts, the typical test prep course takes six weeks.

Take a Free Practice Test


Check out our video on everything you want to know about financial aid: