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In response to the COVID pandemic, and the lack of safe testing opportunities, most colleges who previously required an SAT or ACT score adopted a test-optional admissions policy, and many colleges have remained test optional even as testing has become more available.

A test-optional admissions policy means that a college will consider standardized test scores if submitted, but will review your application for admission without test scores if you choose not to submit. Far fewer colleges—but including all colleges within both the University of California and Cal State systems—have gone completely test-free and do not consider test scores at all for admission, even if submitted.

But does having a test-optional admissions policy mean that a college is test-optional for merit scholarship consideration? Short answer: It depends.

Many colleges have fully embraced the spirit of test-optional admissions and extended that policy to their scholarship process, considering SAT or ACT scores if you submit them, but giving you full consideration for scholarships if you don’t. Without standardized testing, merit scholarship eligibility may be based largely on GPA, or on a holistic review of your entire admissions application, including factors like grades, curriculum rigor, extracurriculars, recommendations, and demographics.

Pepperdine University would fall into this holistic review category. When answering the Frequently Asked Question, “Will I be considered for merit aid if I don’t submit test scores?” on their website, they respond, “All students will be considered for merit aid. The following components will be factored into consideration for merit aid: a student’s unweighted and recalculated GPA, demonstrated course rigor, and overall strength as an applicant, as determined by the admission committee.”

Take note, however, that some colleges that have adopted a test-optional admissions policy still recommend that you submit standardized test scores for scholarship consideration. These colleges may reserve automatic or higher-level scholarship consideration for students submitting testing.

For example, at Idaho State University, while you can apply for lower-level scholarships without testing, consideration for their Presidential Scholarship—the most lucrative scholarship at ISU—does require submission of (high) standardized test scores.  Utilization of Arizona State University’s Student Scholarship Estimator reveals that a California resident with a 3.5 GPA and no testing may qualify for ASU’s Dean’s Scholarship worth $10,000 per year. An identical student with a 1350 SAT score in their application would qualify for a $12,000 per year Provost’s Scholarship.  If you have the capability of scoring 1350 on the SAT, not testing (or testing and not submitting) would cost you $8,000 over four years at ASU.

If you know what colleges you’re applying to, check the scholarships page on their websites to determine if SAT or ACT scores are required for scholarship consideration, or, if not required, if submission may benefit you.

And if you’ve just started your college search, there will likely be plenty of schools (including the UCs and Cal States) where you will have full scholarship consideration without any standardized tests if you want to keep your college options open and are considering private or predominantly out-of-state public schools, you may want to consider testing in order to have scores available if needed or beneficial at the college you end up choosing.


Bright Horizons College Coach® is the nation’s leader in educational advising. We help students and families across the country navigate the path to college, with a team of experts—all former admissions and financial aid decision-makers at top schools—who know the process from the inside. Collectively, we’ve helped more than 32,000 families successfully manage every aspect of college admissions, from choosing schools, to creating stand-out applications, to economically saving, and financing it all. Visit the Bright Horizons website.