May 27, 2021


When students ask me this, I joke there is no downside to taking it besides the extra time, money, and stress that is involved in taking these standardized tests. It takes time to study for, it costs money to buy prep books, works with tutors, and register, and no one’s idea of a nice Saturday is to spend four hours taking a standardized test.

The decision on whether you should take the SAT (or ACT) is more complicated than it used to be, and skip ahead to the conclusion, the best answer is it depends on your personal situation. I see so many SAT tutoring companies with incredibly biased and financially motivated responses to this question, so I wanted to write as objective as possible an answer to this, with the disclaimer that in my honest opinion, at this point in time, it still makes sense for most students to take either the SAT or ACT.

Of course, the added complexity to the situation is due to many colleges becoming test-blind (colleges that do not consider your scores at all even if you submit them) or test-optional (colleges that consider your scores as an additional data point to your application if you choose to submit them). Some schools have become permanently test-blind, some schools are only committed to deciding what they’ll do for another year or two, and some are continuing to require them. The entire University of California system, for example, is now test-blind for students applying for entry up until Spring 2025, while the Florida public school system continued to require test scores to be submitted even in the middle of the pandemic. In summary, every school and state will have different policies moving forward. When you’re looking at possible schools you’d like to apply to, it’s very important that you research the requirements at each school.

If you’re positive that you only want to apply/attend test blind schools, then it makes no sense to take it. However, the time frame to study and take the SAT is traditionally done before applying to school, and if you change your mind on which schools you want to apply to, you don’t want to be taking care of your standardized testing requirements close to the deadline to submit to schools and risk missing it. Not taking a standardized test automatically limits optionality and whether that is important to you is a personal decision.

At a test optional school, if you take the SAT / ACT you have the option to submit your scores. Since it’s one data point as part of a holistic application, a great tip is if you score better than the school’s historical average, you should submit your scores. It can only help you this way and if you score lower than their average, you do not have to submit them to the school. If the school is test optional, they cannot use it against you (directly) if you choose to not submit your score, but the rest of your application (such as GPA and extracurriculars) will hold more weight since yours will have one less data point. So while they can’t use it against you, there’s a limit to how many students can be admitted to a class, and if others have a bonus on their application from a stellar test score, then there’s a possibility that not submitting a competitive standardized test score could indirectly hurt your chances. Therefore, there’s no downside to taking the test… besides the time, money, and stress. This is because even if you take the test, no college will see it unless you decide, after seeing your score, whether you’d like to submit it to the college. Also, just because you submit it to one school does not mean you have to submit it to all the schools you are applying to.

Very importantly, many of these test optional schools (in addition to schools that require it of course) still use standardized testing to award merit-based scholarships. Merit awards are awards you earn for being a standout applicant and are different from need based awards which are given to cover a family’s financial need to afford college. A good score can save lots of money. Anecdotally, The University of Miami was the same cost for me to attend as my state school Rutgers was because I got a large merit scholarship from them, called the Presidential Scholarship, which was likely influenced by my high SAT score. Some schools give predetermined scholarships out to students who meet certain metrics, which again often require a standardized testing component. An example being The University of Alabama, as shown on step 2 of that link, even though they are listed as test optional for Fall 2022!

Then, of course, many colleges are still requiring the test. If you decide to not take it, you immediately limit your options come time to apply to schools.

As you can probably see, it’s a more complicated answer than it once was and depends on your personal situation after doing your research. If you’re set on test blind schools that have committed to staying that way for when you’re applying, then there’s no need to take a standardized test. Some students have no choice and need to take it for the schools they want to go to, and some students are best served to enhance their application with an additional data point showing a strong test score at test optional colleges. Therefore, what makes the most sense to me at this time is if you’re not set on only test blind schools, you should take the test to give you the ability to enhance your application, increase your optionality, and get merit aid that might otherwise not be available.

Notes and Disclaimer: SAT is a trademark of The College Board and ACT is a trademark of ACT, Inc. All rights reserved.