Critical Update on Navigating Our Test Optional Landscape

If you feel you "need" to take the ACT or SAT, we get you. That's what everyone's been saying (hand up, me too) for years. But things are different now.

This week the Ivy League suspended its standardized test requirement for recruited athletes during the 2021 recruiting cycle, the NCAA completed the cancellation of fall sports championships in all divisions, and the Division 1 Management Council extended the Covid-19 Recruiting Dead Period through September 30th (and hinted it will continue to be extended through the fall semester).

One huge source of stress amid pandemic disruption has been accessing standardized testing, and the safety implications surrounding these tests. At this point, the answer from college athletics is clear. You do NOT need to take a standardized test this cycle to satisfy initial eligibility standards for 2021. The NCAA announcement of a standardized testing waiver is here:

Here is a broader outline of the “test optional” state of play in higher education for 2021 graduates:

  • Fully 85% of the U.S. News “Top 100” national liberal arts colleges now have ACT/SAT-optional policies in place, according to a FairTest data table. So do 60 of the “Top 100” national universities, including such recent additions as Brown, Cal Tech, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Penn, Virginia, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale (and that number keeps rising).


  • The Cal-State system has gone test BLIND (they won't consider standardized test scores even if you submit them), and other large public colleges basically fall into 2 camps: those that have gone test optional or test blind (most), and those that will but are slower to respond to change for a variety of reasons (the University of Georgia system is a big one in this category). The Ivy League is 100% test optional for 2021.


  • ALL movement this fall is in the direction of test blind admissions for the 2021 cycle. Colleges requiring tests are in an untenable position when they want students from places like California or New Jersey, where the tests are largely inaccessible. Schools that have gone test optional are under pressure to move towards being "test blind" from high school counselors, NACAC (the association of admissions professionals), and groups with the best data about testing, like Fair Test. Schools will continue to move from red toward green on our chart, how will you feel if you have been chasing testing and your target school makes a change next week? Next month?


  • Activists like Laura Kazan and Rebecca Orlowski have been lobbying for fairness and access in testing for students with disabilities. They have been exceptionally active in this moment pushing for students with disabilities to be included in test optional policies. This has had the ancillary impact of increasing the frequency with which homeschool students are included in test optional policies, even at schools that were previously insistent on testing for homeschoolers. College websites may be inconsistently updated and there are still institutions that have not waived standardized testing for homeschool applicants, but most new movement to being test blind or test optional DOES include homeschool applicants (and applies to SAT2’s, etc).


  • Admissions folk are still feeling their way. Most have never worked a test optional cycle and continue to underestimate how useless these scores are when you can't sort your applicants with them. Likely we continue to overestimate the impact these scores will have in helping our students.

All this aside, some people are going to feel they need to take standardized tests. My heart goes out to you and I wish you the best. But don't jump blindly into doing things because that was the way it was before pandemic... There is no way I'd let my daughter sit in a room with dozens of unmasked (or masked) strangers for 3-4 hours right now. I wish the same level of safety for you and the students in your care. You may disagree, but, be aware that it is likely testing will bring limited benefits to your students this cycle.

For more information, contact Dave Morris, College Counselor & CEO, College Athletic Advisor

email: or phone: (719) 248-7994

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