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For many high school students, taking the SATs is a nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing experience.

The past year, the disruptions caused by COVID-19 have made taking the SATs all the more difficult or even impossible.

Stay-at-home orders, virtual learning, and cancelled SAT exam dates, among other things make it hard for students to take and do well on standardized tests in time for their application deadlines.

The College Board has also decided against offering an at-home SAT this year because taking it would require three hours of uninterrupted, video-quality internet for each student, which can’t be guaranteed for all.

Universities are aware of these complications and many have adopted ‘test-optional’ policies when it comes to their requirements for SAT scores.

A test-optional policy leaves the decision of whether or not to send SAT/ACT scores to a school up to the applicant.

This gives prospective students who have managed to take the test the power to decide whether their scores are an accurate representation of their academic ability and potential, and allows them to have more choice in crafting an application that better demonstrates their strengths and attributes. If you are unsure whether to take the SAT/ACT, refer to this blogpost, where our admissions consultant shares her opinions. 

So, if you haven’t been able to take the SATs for this application cycle or haven’t been able to perform to your expectations, do not be discouraged about your US applications. Rather, focus on building other components of your application like achieving higher grades in school, showing initiative in meaningful extracurriculars, and crafting stellar essays. 

More than 400 colleges have declared a test-optional policy and here, we’ve compiled a list of 5 top schools that do not require SAT scores.

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MIT ranked as the #4 overall university is famous for its scientific and technological training and research. However, beyond STEM, MIT also offers students an equally prestigious business and entrepreneurship program, and its urban location in Boston makes it all the more conducive for both business and engineering opportunities. As stated by MIT, ‘students who do not submit SAT scores will not have any negative inferences be drawn from their absence. Instead, we will make the best, most informed decision we can by assessing other academic aspects of their application like grades, curriculum, and other examinations⁠’. 

2. Harvard University

Fortunately for you, even one of the most prestigious and well-known institutions in the world, is test-optional this year. According to their website, ‘standardized tests are just one factor in Harvard’s “whole-person admissions process”. However, without SAT scores, and it’s record low admission rate of 4.9%, you’ll need to make sure to have stellar academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and 3 Harvard supplemental essays. Their policy also goes on to state that ‘students who find themselves limited in the activities they can pursue due to the current coronavirus outbreak will not be disadvantaged as a result, nor will students who are only able to present pass/fail grades or other similar marks on their transcripts this spring.

3. University of California (UCs)

The University of California includes nine undergraduate universities, and is one of the most prestigious public school systems in the US. They include UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC Merced, and UC Irvine. Each UC undergraduate program is fully equipped with coursework in natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Similar to MIT, The UC schools have their own application system, and students must respond to four of eight personal insight questions in 350 words each. On their website, they reaffirm their commitment to making the SATs optional – ‘we recognize that access, safety, and proper accommodations are huge factors in a student’s ability to take one of these exams. Optional means optional.’.

4. University of Chicago

The University of Chicago, known for being highly intellectual and having quirky essay requirements, is one of the best places in the world to get an undergraduate education. It is a liberal arts institution that follows a core curriculum – a broad range of interdisciplinary courses in many subject areas, including math, biological and physical sciences, humanities, arts, and the social sciences – that needs to be taken in addition to your major. Interestingly, UcChicago’s test-optional policy precedes COVID-19, as they already updated their requirements during the previous application cycle. Their application also includes the option of submitting a two-minute video introduction ‘If you would like to add your voice to your application’. 

5. New York University (NYU)

As one of the largest private research universities in the United States in the bustling city of New York, NYU offers a range of disciplines and opportunities. NYU’s most popular majors include Visual and Performing Arts, Social Sciences, Business, Liberal Arts and Sciences and General Studies and Humanities. For their admissions cycles prior to Covid-19, NYU had one of the most flexible testing policies of any college or university. As part of  their standardized testing required, they accepted one of the following: 

  • SAT; or
  • ACT; or
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma; or
  • Three (3) SAT Subject Test scores; or
  • Three (3) AP Exam scores; or
  • Three (3) IB higher-level exam scores if not an IB Diploma candidate; or
  • Other international examinations that show you completed, or if submitting predicted results show you will complete your secondary education. 

However, this year, they have stated that ‘the flexibility of our testing policy may be insufficient to overcome impediments to testing caused by the coronavirus. We will equally consider students who submit standardized testing, those who are unable to sit for standardized testing this year, and those who submit their scores past our normal deadlines.

Final note on the relevance of the SAT

Having reached this point in this article, you might be left wondering – should I even take the SAT ? Well, the short answer is, if you’re able to, then yes. An important thing to keep in mind that some of these changes in testing policies are temporary (applicable only for the Fall 2021 intake), and the mandatory submission of test scores will be reinstated once the pandemic subsides.

Also do note, that standardized testing makes it easier to compare students who do not come from commonly recognized curriculums such as the IB or AP.

And lastly, a strong standardized test score provides you an avenue to compensate for potential shortcomings in your academic profile. For instance, when evaluating two borderline applicants with similar high school grades and average profiles, the standardardized test score becomes a way to differentiate the two. For further information on whether to take the SAT from an admission consultant’s perspective, please refer to our page here.

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