As more and more colleges go test optional, you might be wondering if you need to sit for the SAT or ACT at all. From guaranteed scholarships to merit scholarships, learn how better SAT and ACT scores can earn you big financial aid awards.

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

Studying for SAT scholarships

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. 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 financial aid (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 Scores**GPAAdmit RateMerit Award***
Albion College 1070 23 3.37 72% $18,800
College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University 850 20 3.56 88% $16,240
Dickinson College 1290 31 NR 43% $17,042
Illinois Wesleyan University 1020 24 3.75 58% $15,636
Juniata College 1000 22 3.71 75% $18,672
Le Moyne College 1080 25 3.45 65% $18,839
Quinnipiac University 1020 25 3.40 76% $17,000
Rollins College 1130 27 3.32 61% $19,085
Santa Clara University 1320 31 3.67 48% $18,680
Saint Louis University 990 23 3.89 65% $18,041
Texas Christian University 1160 28 NR 38% $17,824
University of North Carolina at Charlotte 1190 28 3.97 62% $17,107

*Critical Reading + Math (Learn how to calculate new SAT scores.)
**ACT scores are self-reported Fall 2016 score data from schools featured
***Merit award data for qualifying individuals self-reported from schools and represents data during the 2016-17 school year

Scores for Outside Scholarships

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 Brokeexplains, “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 just six weeks.


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