Given the number of colleges that are going, and now staying, test optional, it’s reasonable for students to wonder whether they still really need to sit for a standardized test. I suspect that there’s a fair amount of confusion surrounding this issue, particularly among students who have limited access to knowledgeable admissions guidance. Given that, this piece is intended to provide some general guidelines for when traditional standardized testing is, and is not, necessary.

So, do you need to take the SAT or the ACT?

The short answer: probably.

The long answer: probably, but it depends.

If you are only planning to apply to schools in the University of California system (which no longer considers SAT/ACT scores), and there is effectively no chance that you will later decide to apply elsewhere, then no, you do not need to take the SAT or the ACT.

If you are applying to less-selective test-optional schools (>50% acceptance rate) and can comfortably afford to attend without financial aid, then the choice of whether to take the SAT or ACT is up to you (particularly if you have strong grades and good AP scores).

If you are so staunchly opposed to standardized testing that taking the SAT or the ACT would represent an intolerable violation of your deepest-held principles, then you do not need to take one of those tests (although if you fall into that category, you presumably would have applied only to test-optional schools pre-pandemic anyway).

If you do not fall into one of those categories, then yes, it is a good idea to take the SAT or the ACT, or—a less good idea—both. (And for the record, I am not just saying this because I’m the author of a series of SAT and ACT books. Really.)

While I do believe that colleges are generally honest when they claim that not submitting scores won’t hurt, it is also true that submitting high scores—particularly scores well above a school’s average, and particularly at schools below the highest level of selectivity—will almost certainly strengthen your application. If, on the other hand, you don’t get your scores quite where you want them (for some schools, at at least), you don’t have to submit them. But it’s good to at least have the option of doing so.

If you are planning to apply to specialized, selective academic programs, particularly in a STEM field, then you should almost certainly take the SAT or ACT. While some schools may in fact be willing to consider applications without these scores, that is probably not the case across the board, and you should be prepared to have to submit them to some institutions.

If you are a recruited athlete, or are planning to try to get recruited, then it is recommended that you take the SAT or ACT. While the NCAA has adopted a test-optional policy for all students entering in 2022, the organization indicates that 37% of Division I schools intend to continue requiring scores in future years.

If you are applying to Georgetown, or to a public university in Georgia or Florida, then you are required to submit standardized test scores.

If you will need substantial financial aid to attend college, or you will be aiming for merit aid to take off some of the financial burden, then you should absolutely take the SAT or ACT.

Although some universities may explicitly require applicants to submit test scores in order to be considered for certain scholarships, things may also play out in a less direct way—even at schools that are officially test optional. Again, this is more likely to be true at less-selective colleges, where it is not uncommon for students with strong test scores to be offered substantial merit scholarships that they did not even apply for—even if their family income falls above the threshold for income-based aid.

If you are an international student applying to colleges in the United States, then you need to take the SAT or the ACT.  Schools that have implemented test-optional policies for U.S. students may have retained traditional testing requirements for students applying from abroad. Particularly if you come from a school or country that rarely sends students to the U.S. for higher education, standardized test scores may provide important information about your ability to do college-level work in an English-speaking environment.

If you are an American student applying to selective institutions outside the United States, then you should take the SAT or ACT. Although many universities abroad appear to be following the lead of U.S. schools in suspending testing requirements for the ’21-’22 admissions cycle, that is not uniformly the case, and you should not assume that this situation will be extended to future years. In addition, some universities abroad are likely to place more emphasis on numbers than comparable U.S. institutions, and you may place yourself at a real disadvantage by failing to submit scores.