Is the ACT Optional?

The ACT (American College Testing) is a standardized test used in college admissions in the United States. Traditionally, the ACT has been a requirement for admission to many colleges and universities, but in recent years, an increasing number of schools have made the test optional.

An optional ACT policy means that students can choose whether or not to submit ACT scores as part of their college application. This policy is also known as "test-optional" or "test-flexible." 

The test-optional trend has gained momentum due to concerns about the fairness of standardized testing, as well as the financial burden and logistical challenges of taking the test. Many colleges and universities have found that dropping the ACT requirement has led to more diverse applicant pools and increased enrollment of students from underrepresented groups.

However, it is important to note that "optional" does not mean "unimportant." While some colleges may not require the ACT, submitting strong test scores can still help a student stand out in the admissions process and demonstrate academic achievement. In addition, some academic programs, scholarships, and honors colleges may still require ACT scores, even if the college as a whole has an optional policy.

It is also worth noting that the optional policy is not uniform across all colleges and universities. Some schools are completely test-optional, while others may require test scores from certain applicants or in certain circumstances (such as homeschooled students or international applicants).

Ultimately, whether or not to submit ACT scores should be a strategic decision made by each individual student based on their personal circumstances and the policies of the colleges they are applying to.

Which Portion of the ACT Is Optional

In 2021, the ACT introduced changes to their exam format, making the essay portion of the exam optional. This means that students who register for the ACT can choose whether or not they want to complete the essay portion of the exam. The essay section is a 40-minute writing test that requires students to analyze a complex issue and provide their own perspective on the topic. 

It's important to note that while the essay section is optional, some colleges and universities may still require it as part of their admissions process. Therefore, students should check with the schools they are interested in applying to in order to determine whether or not the essay section is required. 

The other sections of the ACT, including English, math, reading, and science, are all required and cannot be skipped. The ACT is a standardized test that is used by many colleges and universities as part of their admissions process, and the scores from the required sections are typically used to assess a student's academic readiness for college-level coursework.

Test-Optional Admissions Defined

Test-optional admissions is a policy adopted by colleges and universities that allows applicants to choose whether or not to submit standardized test scores (such as the ACT or SAT) as part of their application. Under this policy, applicants are evaluated on other factors, such as their grades, extracurricular activities, essays, and letters of recommendation, instead of solely relying on their standardized test scores. 

Test-optional policies have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted many students' ability to take standardized tests. Some colleges and universities have made their test-optional policies permanent, while others have adopted them temporarily or only for certain application cycles. 

It is important to note that test-optional does not mean test-blind. Test-blind policies prohibit the submission of standardized test scores altogether, whereas test-optional policies give applicants the choice to submit or not submit their scores. Additionally, some colleges and universities may require standardized test scores for certain programs or scholarships, even if they have a test-optional policy for general admissions.

The Purpose of Test-Optional Admissions

Test-optional admissions refer to a college or university's policy of allowing students to decide whether to submit standardized test scores (such as the SAT or ACT) as part of their application. The purpose of test-optional admissions is to provide students with greater flexibility and control over their application process, and to reduce the emphasis placed on standardized tests in admissions decisions.

Proponents of test-optional admissions argue that standardized test scores are not the best predictor of a student's potential for success in college. They argue that factors such as grades, extracurricular activities, and essays provide a more holistic view of a student's abilities and potential. Additionally, standardized tests are often criticized for being culturally biased and not providing an accurate reflection of a student's abilities.

Furthermore, test-optional admissions policies aim to increase access to higher education for underserved and underrepresented communities, who may face barriers in accessing test preparation resources and achieving high test scores. By allowing students to decide whether to submit test scores, colleges and universities can create a more equitable and inclusive admissions process.

However, critics of test-optional admissions argue that standardized test scores can still be a useful tool in predicting a student's potential for success in college. They also argue that test-optional policies may create additional uncertainty and complexity in the admissions process, and may disadvantage students who do submit test scores if their scores are lower than average.

Overall, the purpose of test-optional admissions is to provide students with more control and flexibility over their application process and reduce the emphasis placed on standardized tests in admissions decisions.

Eligibility for Test-Optional Admissions

Test-optional admissions policies vary by institution, but generally, they apply to all applicants, regardless of their background or academic qualifications. However, some schools may require standardized test scores from certain groups of students, such as international applicants or students who are homeschooled.

It is important to note that even if a school has a test-optional policy, submitting test scores can still strengthen an applicant's application. Conversely, choosing not to submit scores could also have an impact on an applicant's chances of admission, particularly if other aspects of their application are weaker.

In some cases, schools may require alternative forms of assessment from students who do not submit standardized test scores, such as additional essays, interviews, or graded writing samples. These alternative forms of assessment can provide admissions committees with a more comprehensive understanding of an applicant's strengths and potential.

Ultimately, the eligibility requirements for test-optional admissions depend on the policies of each individual institution. It is important for students to research the policies of each school to which they plan to apply and to understand the potential impact of submitting or withholding their test scores on their chances of admission.

Which Colleges are ACT Optional?

As of 2021, over 1,600 colleges and universities across the United States have adopted a test-optional policy, meaning that they do not require applicants to submit standardized test scores like the ACT. The exact list of colleges that are ACT optional can vary from year to year and can also depend on the individual policies of each school. However, some of the most well-known universities that have adopted test-optional policies include the following:

1. University of Chicago

2. Columbia University

3. Cornell University

4. Dartmouth College

5. Duke University

6. Georgetown University

7. Harvard University

8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

9. New York University

10. Stanford University

11. University of Pennsylvania

12. Yale University

It is important to note that while these universities have adopted test-optional policies, some of them may still require test scores for certain programs or for scholarship consideration. It is always best to check with the individual school's admissions office for their specific policies regarding standardized test scores. Additionally, some colleges may have adopted test-flexible policies, where they allow students to submit alternative tests such as the SAT subject tests or AP exams in lieu of the ACT or SAT.

Is the ACT Optional at Top-Tier Schools?

Many top-tier schools have become test-optional in recent years, including Ivy League institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Other highly selective schools like Stanford University, Duke University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have also adopted test-optional policies. However, it's important to note that some top-tier schools still require the ACT or SAT, such as the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the United States Naval Academy. It's always best to check with individual schools to confirm their admission requirements.

Will I Be Penalized If I Go Test Optional?

No, you will not be penalized if you choose to go test-optional. Colleges that have implemented test-optional policies have stated that they will review applications holistically and will not penalize students who choose not to submit test scores. However, it's important to note that some colleges may still require standardized test scores for certain programs or scholarship opportunities, so it's important to check with each individual school for their specific policies. Additionally, if you choose not to submit test scores, it's important to make sure that the rest of your application is strong and highlights your academic and personal achievements.

5 Reasons to Take the ACT Even Though It’s Optional

Even though the ACT is optional for college admissions, there are several reasons why students may still want to take the exam:

1. Demonstrating academic readiness: Scoring well on the ACT can show colleges that a student is academically prepared for college-level work.

2. Improving college admissions chances: Although optional, submitting a strong ACT score can improve a student's chances of being admitted to their preferred college or university.

3. Qualifying for scholarships: Many colleges and universities use ACT scores to determine scholarship eligibility. Even if a school is test-optional, a strong ACT score can help a student earn scholarships.

4. Comparison with other applicants: If a student chooses to submit their ACT scores, colleges may use them to compare applicants to each other. A strong score can set a student apart from other candidates.

5. Meeting program requirements: Some colleges or academic programs may require ACT scores for admission or placement into specific courses.

Overall, while the ACT may be optional for college admissions, there are still many reasons why taking the exam and submitting a strong score can benefit a student's college application.

6 Reasons to Go Test Optional

Here are some reasons why a student might choose to go test optional:

1. Test anxiety: Some students experience test anxiety and may not perform well on standardized tests like the ACT.

2. Lack of access to testing: In some areas, it may be difficult to access test centers or secure a spot for testing. 

3. Pandemic-related challenges: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students were unable to take the ACT or SAT, and some colleges made their admissions process test optional as a result.

4. Emphasis on other aspects of the application: Going test optional may allow students to emphasize other aspects of their application, such as extracurricular activities, essays, and letters of recommendation. 

5. Cost: Taking the ACT can be expensive, especially when factoring in test prep materials and registration fees. Going test optional can help students save money. 

6. Focus on high school curriculum: Some students and educators argue that a student’s high school academic record and curriculum provide a more accurate representation of their potential success in college than standardized test scores.

What to Do if You’ve Decided to Take the ACT

If you have decided to take the ACT, there are several steps you can take to prepare and register for the exam:

1. Familiarize yourself with the test format and content: The ACT consists of four sections - English, math, reading, and science - and an optional writing section. You can find sample questions and test-taking strategies on the official ACT website.

2. Create a study plan: Develop a study plan that works for your schedule and learning style. Consider purchasing test prep books or signing up for an online test prep course.

3. Register for the exam: Visit the official ACT website to register for the exam. You will need to create an account, choose a test date and location, and pay the registration fee.

4. Take practice tests: Taking practice tests can help you identify areas where you need to improve and get comfortable with the format and timing of the exam.

5. Get support: Consider working with a tutor or joining a study group to get extra support and motivation.

6. Stay focused and confident: Stay focused on your goals and remember that you have the skills and knowledge to succeed on the ACT.


In conclusion, the ACT is optional for many colleges and universities, but some top-tier schools still require it. Going test-optional can have both advantages and disadvantages, so it's important to weigh your options carefully. If you decide to take the ACT, it's important to prepare thoroughly and understand the structure of the exam. Ultimately, the decision to take the ACT should be based on your individual circumstances and goals.