Most students are all too aware of the SAT and its role in college admissions. Historically, the SAT was more or less a mandatory step in the process of applying to and getting into your dream college or university; now, however, for a variety of reasons, things are a little more complicated. The rise in popularity of the ACT, the proliferation of test-optional admissions policies prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a general de-emphasis on standardized testing due to social factors have all combined to make the question of “do I need to take the SAT for college” a relevant one for many students. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the most salient factors in an effort to help you answer that question for yourself. Let’s dive in.
First, A Little Context
The SAT has been around since the 1920s, when the name was an acronym that stood for ‘Scholastic Aptitude Test’. There have been several minor name changes in the intervening years, and as of the time of writing, SAT is no longer short for ‘Scholastic Aptitude Test’ and in fact is no longer an acronym at all—instead, it’s simply the name of the test. (For extra credit, next time you’re upset at College Board, I encourage you to call their support line and lament their moral bankruptcy by dramatically exclaiming, “I remember when this test used to STAND for something!”)
Alongside those nomenclature shifts came changes in structure and scoring. Some question-types, such as analogies and sentence completions, have been eliminated over the years, and the number of sections has fluctuated; additionally, the highest possible composite score that can be earned on the test has gone from 1600 to 2400 back to its current level of 1600 again. Through all of the changes, however, the SAT has maintained a consistent focus on testing verbal reasoning—as measured through reading comprehension, writing ability, and vocabulary knowledge—and mathematical content knowledge and reasoning.
Today, the SAT is one of two tests—with the other being the ACT—that are used by colleges and universities in the admissions process to assess students’ readiness for college-level coursework. As the test has changed, however, so too has the way that it is used by colleges and universities evolved with the times. Like I alluded to above, through the late 2010s, either the SAT or the ACT was functionally mandatory for students planning to apply to a range of different four-year colleges or universities, as most schools required the submission of test scores alongside a student’s application. Different schools of course placed varying amounts of emphasis on the test relative to other aspects of the application, but the majority of students could expect to need to take one test or the other. And then, there was COVID.
During the height of the pandemic, access to testing centers was a huge problem. Many test dates were cancelled for public health reasons, meaning that a significant number of students couldn’t take the test and therefore simply didn’t have scores to submit with their applications. To account for this, most schools implemented test-optional admissions policies in order to allow students to apply without sending test scores.
The widespread adoption of these policies accelerated debates that had already been percolating about the utility of test scores in the admissions process. Some schools and student groups claimed that the tests were biased toward students who could afford tutoring and that they didn’t offer any information about applicants that couldn’t already be gleaned from their GPAs, course-loads, etc. Regardless of how convincing you find those arguments, they had an impact: even after COVID vaccines were developed and distributed and the SAT/ACT testing schedule returned to something close to normal, most schools announced their intention to maintain test-optional admissions policies for at least the near future.
So Do Colleges Still Require the SAT in 2023?
This brings us nicely to the present day. As I mentioned above, many schools implemented a test-optional admissions policy during the COVID pandemic, and most of those schools are still test-optional at the time of writing and have indicated that they will remain so for at least the next year or two. You may think, therefore, that the answer to “do I need to take the SAT for college” is simply “no”; however, there’s more to the story, starting with a few important notes below.
- Test-optional is not the same thing as test-blind. Schools with a test-optional policy will still consider test scores if you submit them with your application, which means that scoring well on the SAT can be a major boost to your chances of being admitted to one of those schools. Schools that are test-blind will not evaluate scores as part of your application at all.
- There are test score requirements attached to some scholarships, both athletic and academic. Though many academic scholarships require “only” that you meet certain eligibility criteria, fill out an application, and write an essay, there are some—such as the National Merit Scholarship—that have a minimum test score threshold which must be met before you can apply. Additionally, some coaches/schools may require each recruited athlete to achieve a certain score in order to lock down a scholarship spot.
- If you do submit test scores, they are only one element of your application. One positive to come out of the shift to test-optional policies is the increased emphasis on holistic review of students’ applications. Whereas in the past, many schools may have been guilty of overvaluing test scores at the expense of other elements of the application, all of the noises coming from admissions departments over the past few years indicate that this is no longer the case. If you don’t submit scores to a test-optional school, you genuinely won’t be penalized; if you do submit a score, it will be considered as a single data point that is not evaluated with more weight than things like grades and extracurricular activities. (Note again that specific policies may vary from school to school, but this seems to be the general trend.)
Colleges That Require SAT Scores in 2023
If you’re here for specifics, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that it is EXTREMELY difficult to create and maintain a comprehensive, accurate list of admissions policies for even just domestic colleges and universities; you may not be aware, but there are a metric butt-ton of schools in this country. The good news is that a few poor souls do try to curate such a list, and I’ve piggy-backed off of their hard work to give you some examples of schools with various admissions policies. Below you’ll find some of the most notable colleges for which you do need the SAT, organized by location.
|School Name||Location||Admissions Policy|
|United States Air Force Academy||CO||Test-required|
|University of Florida||FL||Test-required|
|Florida State University||FL||Test-required|
|University of Georgia||GA||Test-required|
|Georgia Institute of Technology (a.k.a. Georgia Tech)||GA||Test-required|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology (a.k.a. MIT)||MA||Test-required|
|United States Naval Academy||MD||Test-required|
|United States Military Academy at West Point||NY||Test-required|
|University of Tennessee, Knoxville||TN||Test-required|
Colleges That Don’t Require SAT Scores in 2023
You may have been a bit surprised to see that even though the list above only includes the best-known institutions that require SAT scores, it’s still remarkably short; that’s largely because, as we covered above, the vast majority of schools in the US are still test-optional or even test-blind. A corollary to this is the fact that listing out all of the schools that DON’T require SAT scores isn’t really an option, since I have plans next Tuesday and I should probably eat at some point before then.
As such, I’ve once again created a table of some of the most well-known colleges that don’t require SAT scores; for a more comprehensive list, check the source link below the table.
|School Name||Location||Admissions Policy|
|University of Arizona||AZ||Test-optional|
|University of California system (e.g. UC-Irvine, UC-Berkeley, UCLA)||CA||Test-blind|
|University of Colorado Boulder||CO||Test-optional|
|George Washington University||DC||Test-optional|
|Georgia State University||GA||Test-optional|
|University of Iowa||IA||Test-optional|
|University of Chicago||IL||Test-optional|
|University of Notre Dame||IN||Test-optional|
|University of Kansas||KS||Test-optional|
|Johns Hopkins University||MD||Test-optional|
|University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||MI||Test-optional|
|Michigan State University||MI||Test-optional|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||NC||Test-optional|
|North Carolina Central University||NC||Test-optional|
|New York University||NY||Test-optional|
|Ohio State University||OH||Test-optional|
|University of Pennsylvania||PA||Test-optional|
|Rhode Island School of Design||RI||Test-optional|
|College of Charleston||SC||Test-optional|
|University of Virginia||VA||Test-optional|
|Virginia Polytechnic Institute||VA||Test-optional|
|William & Mary||VA||Test-optional|
|University of Washington||WA||Test-optional|
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||WI||Test-optional|
|West Virginia University||WV||Test-optional|
A few notes about the tables above:
- If you don’t see a particular school listed, do not assume its admissions policy. As I mentioned earlier, I could not include the entirety of the relevant tables in this post. Instead, I tried to select recognizable schools from different areas of the country that fit a variety of different profiles in order to depict admissions policies for a wide range of institutions.
- Remember that admissions policies can change. The information in this post is accurate at the time of writing, and we will do our best to update it periodically; however, many schools have taken the approach of extending their test-optional admissions policies 2-3 years at a time in order to preserve flexibility rather than announcing that they will be adopting those policies permanently. As such, some of the information in this table may be outdated within the next 1-2 admissions cycles.
- The best place to get up-to-date, 100% accurate information about a specific school’s policy is directly from that school. Almost all institutions include their test policies on the admissions portions of their websites; if you can’t find that info for a specific school, reach out to the admissions department directly. Make sure you’re doing your research and getting information directly from the source!
Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Take the SAT for College
All that information is important and helpful, but it might not help you personally answer the question of “do I need the SAT for college”. While that decision-making process is obviously one that you’ll have to go through on your own, I can offer a few tips to help you navigate it.
The first step is to have a sense of what schools you’ll be applying to and research their admissions policies. If the schools in which you’re most interested are either test-blind or test-required, then that provides a pretty easy answer to the question of “do I need to take the SAT for college”.
Assuming at least some of your potential undergraduate homes are test-optional, the next thing to do is to research their test score statistics and other admissions criteria. Before you commit a bunch of time and money to SAT preparation, it’s important to know how your potential application compares to that of the average applicant to those institutions. If your grades and extracurriculars are top-notch but you know you’re not the best test-taker, it might not be worth going all-in to try to score a 1540 on the SAT in order to be competitive with the Harvard median score. On the other hand, if you could use a data point on your application that makes you stand out and you believe you’re capable of crushing the SAT, it would probably benefit you to consider sitting for the test.
I typically tell my students to view SAT scores at test-optional schools as an opportunity to show that you belong in their freshman class. Just like earning an A in an AP class shows mastery of college-level material or juggling school, a job, and sports commitments shows time-management skills and a strong work ethic, submitting an SAT score that’s at or above the median for a particular school demonstrates that you have problem-solving skills and content knowledge which are at the level that school is looking for in an applicant. If you can submit a score which accomplishes that, it’s typically a good idea to do so.
Finally, once you’ve settled on taking a test to submit scores with your application, determine whether the SAT or ACT is a better fit for you. Though colleges genuinely don’t prioritize one test over the other (yes, really), the two tests have some significant differences in structure, speed, and content, which means that most students are naturally better suited for one of the two. Take a practice test for each and compare your scores, or if you don’t have six hours to spare, use our special diagnostic test to get a personalized recommendation of SAT or ACT in less time. Picking the right test from the beginning of the process will make preparation faster and easier.
So If I Do Need the SAT for College, How Do I Prepare?
With Inspirica Pros, of course.
No but seriously, while we obviously hope that you come work with us and let one of our tutors help you prepare for the SAT (we’re really, really good at this stuff), there are many ways to prep. You can choose to work with a tutor, or you can opt to prepare by yourself using the many resources that are available. Whichever path you select, make sure it follows these key tenets.
Look for a mix of content and strategy.
There are many great (and sometimes free) options that will help you review the grammar and math concepts with which you may be struggling; Khan Academy is one example. Remember, however, that getting a good SAT score is about more than knowing the material—it’s about knowing the test, its patterns, and how best to attack them.
There’s no substitute for timed practice.
Make sure that your prep plan incorporates plenty of timed practice sections and full practice tests, particularly as you get closer to the date of the test. The structure and timing of the test are part of the challenge of the test, and it’s essential that you get comfortable with both before the day of the real thing. Practice tests provide an opportunity for you to practice the content and strategy you’ve been working on in the context of full test sections, and they also give you a benchmark score that you can use to measure your progress.
You can find eight free, official practice tests on the College Board’s website. Once you’ve exhausted those, you’ll need to move on to third-party books, such as Princeton Review. These third-party materials are generally lower quality than the official tests, since it’s very difficult to perfectly replicate the feel of the real thing; however, they’re good enough to provide useful preparation, and they’re your only real option unless you want to trawl the internet for “unofficial” official test documents.
Review your mistakes.
Practice alone isn’t enough. Make sure that you’re building in time to look back over your timed sections and review the questions you missed. In Verbal, ask yourself why your answer was wrong and what makes the correct answer better; in Math, try to locate the error in your work, then see if you can rework the problem correctly without time pressure. Remember that practice is only as useful as the lessons that you’re able to draw from it.
Do I Need the SAT for College: Some Final Thoughts
We covered a lot of ground in this post: a general history of the SAT and its use in admissions through the present day; examples of schools that are test-required, test-optional, and test-blind; and some things to consider as you strive to answer the question of “do I need to take the SAT for college”.
It’s hard to predict where we’ll be in terms of the SAT’s place in college admissions in two years, let alone 5-10 years, especially with the huge shift to the digital SAT coming in 2024 for domestic test-takers. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that test-optional admissions policies are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Making the tests optional codifies their use by schools as simply one potential data point among many, which is really how they should have been used from the beginning: as just another opportunity for students to show off their strengths to admissions officers.
That’s just the opinion of one dude on the internet, however, and that dude doesn’t have a crystal ball (no matter how hard he tries to convince his boss to let him expense one). The best thing you can do as a student or parent is stay informed. Talk with your college counselors, reach out to admissions officers, read articles about admissions from reputable sources, and do whatever else you can to ensure that you’re armed with all the information you need to make an educated decision about testing. Things have changed a LOT in the last 3-4 years (mild understatement), and there’s no guarantee that they’re not going to keep doing so. Who knows, they may even turn SAT back into an acronym again…