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Dr. Jennifer B. Bernstein

(516) 362-1929

Test Optional: SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests (2020-2021)

UPDATED on 6/18/20: There’s lots of buzz about how many schools are adopting a test-optional policy when it comes to standardized tests (SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests) for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

Some students are breathing a sigh of relief, imagining that they’re “off the hook” when it comes to standardized tests.

However, if you’re aiming to earn admission to Ivy League and other highly competitive universities, it’s essential to pay close attention to the policies and statements issued by these institutions.

No matter what schools you are planning to apply to, you should always look at what the colleges themselves are saying, not just what you read in articles, even those in the New York Times. It’s important to understand the full context!!!

The focus in this article is on the actual standardized test policies and statements released by Ivy League and some other highly competitive universities.

Jump right to the school that interests you by clicking on one of these links:

BrownCaltech – Carnegie MellonColumbiaCornellDartmouthDuke

GeorgetownHarvard – Johns Hopkins – MITNorthwesternPrinceton

StanfordUniversity of California – University of Chicago

University of PennsylvaniaUniversity of Southern California


What You Need to Understand About Test Optional Policies for the SAT, ACT, & SAT Subject Tests at Ivy League & Other Highly Competitive Schools

One thing is for sure.

There’s going to be a lot of flexibility during this coming admissions cycle.

Many schools that used to recommend or require the SAT Subject Tests have now gone test optional. Other schools like MIT have completely stopped considering them.

As of (6/16/2020), Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale are the Ivies that have gone test optional for 2020-2021. All other Ivies and schools like Stanford and MIT still require the submission of either SAT or ACT scores. However, even Cornell says that your scores on the SAT or ACT “might still be a meaningful differentiator.”

The schools that still require the SAT or ACT are monitoring the situation. They’re hoping you can take the tests, but if testing is limited or unavailable, they might change their policies.

Remember that test optional doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t submit your SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores. It can still benefit you to submit strong standardized test scores. They will be considered.

It’s true that your application will not be “harmed” by not submitting your standardized test scores to schools that have gone optional for the year.

It’s also true that your application will not be helped if you don’t submit them.

Yes, everything is still so uncertain, but one of the things about learning how to navigate life’s ups and downs is to stay as even-minded as possible and keep moving forward.

What Should You Do If You’re in a Truly Bad Situation Due to the Pandemic? 

If you are currently in a really, really tough situation because of the pandemic, don’t lose heart.

By tough situation, I’m mainly referring to trauma like extreme illness or death in your close family and/or having to assume care of your siblings because one or both of your parents are essential health workers. I’m also referring to situations where your parents might have lost their jobs, your housing is threatened, etc. These things can obviously influence your ability to study and pursue your dreams.

You will want your school guidance counselor to be able to explain the situation in their letter of recommendation.

You might even eventually want to share some of this information somewhere in the new optional section on COVID-19 within the Common Application.

If testing is unavailable in your area and your colleges are still requiring the SAT or ACT, reach out directly to the admissions officers at the schools to which you are applying. Let them know what is going on and ask them for advice.

What Should You Do About Your Standardized Tests (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests)?

  •  What should you do if you already have very strong SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Test scores?

You should plan on submitting these scores to schools.

Just make sure you pay attention to their policies because some schools like MIT and Yale will not accept SAT Subject Test scores. For MIT, this change is permanent. For Yale, it’s just for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

Click here to read about self-reporting standardized test scores and sending official score reports.

  • What should you do if you don’t have SAT or ACT scores or you aren’t satisfied with your results on previous tests? 
No one knows exactly what is going to happen. It might not be possible to administer the SAT or ACT in August or the fall. The possible online administration of the exams might not work out. The Ivy League schools and other universities that have not yet gone test optional for 2020-2021 might go test optional.

Nevertheless, I advise you to make plans to take (or retake) the SAT or ACT and to give your best to studying for these exams. A good score will still benefit you.

  • What about SAT Subject Tests?

These tests are of secondary importance to the SAT and ACT.

That is, it’s more important for you to have strong SAT or ACT scores than it is for you to have the SAT Subject Tests, especially now that so many schools are no longer recommending or requiring them.

Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, Georgetown is still saying that “submission of three SAT Subject tests is recommended but not required.” You need to check with all of the schools to which you are applying in order to ensure you know their policies regarding SAT Subject Tests.


As of 6/13/20, Brown is test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

Starting with the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, Brown “will no longer recommend the submission of SAT Subject Tests.” However, “if submitted, Subject Tests will be considered as part of your application. Students who have not taken the Subject Tests will be at no disadvantage in Brown’s admission process.”

Brown states that “current high school juniors are not expected to take Advanced Placement tests this spring.” This spring = 2020.

Click here to read Brown’s statement on changes to standardized testing policies for 2020-2021.


In June Caltech announced that they have “enacted a two-year moratorium on both the requirement and consideration of SAT and/or ACT test scores as part of the undergraduate admissions process.” In other words, Caltech is test blind (will NOT consider) SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores for the next two admissions cycles (2020-2021 and 2021-2022).

Moving forward, Caltech will no longer require the submission of SAT Subject Test scores.

Click here to read Caltech’s statement on revisions to their standardized testing policies.


Carnegie Mellon is test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

Carnegie Mellon no longer requires, recommends, or accepts the SAT Subject Tests. They “won’t be considered in our admission review process.”

Click here to read Carnegie Mellon’s statement on COVID-19 and admissions during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.


Columbia is “adopting a one year test-optional policy for first-year applicants to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering for the fall of 2021.”  You can still submit your SAT or ACT scores if you want to do so.

SAT Subject Tests remain optional at Columbia.

Click here to learn more about Columbia’s revised standardized testing policy.


Students applying to Cornell during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle do not need to submit ACT or SAT scores.

Cornell states that they haven’t “planned to adopt a test-optional admission policy permanently” and that in their “review during the 2020-2021 application cycle, results from the ACT or SAT might still be a meaningful differentiator in particular for students who:

live near or attend a school that will be open, and where testing will be offered, or who live near a testing center that will be offering more testing seats or dates than they did in 2019; and have not experienced lost income for one or more of their household providers or other significant new hardships and losses during 2020.” 

There’s a chance that the ACT and SAT will offer online versions of the tests. Cornell states:

“This method of testing can’t yet be validated as an indicator of college success during the upcoming cycle. . . .Applicants who might choose to undertake any of these options during the months between September and December should submit the results if they’re an accurate reflection of their preparation.”

Cornell notes that there “will be some differences in interpretation within different Cornell college admissions offices.” 

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as well as the College of Architecture, Art and Planning will “de-emphasize the use of testing while applying stronger scrutiny to non-testing elements” in the “review process.”

The College of Arts & Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Human Ecology, SC Johnson College of Business – Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, SC Johnson College of Business – School of Hotel Administration, and School of Industrial and Labor Relations “will also include a review of test results they receive.” 

Cornell notes that they “don’t plan to require any students to justify their reasons for not submitting test results, though we will hope to partner with applicants and their advocates throughout the reading period in order to understand each applicant’s circumstances.” In addition, they note that “applicants with no test results might more often be asked after review has begun for additional evidence of continuing preparation, including grade reports from current senior year enrollment when that can be made available in time for Cornell admission review.” 

SAT Subject Tests are not required at Cornell. 

Click here to read Cornell’s full statement.


Dartmouth is test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. 

You may still submit your SAT, ACT, and/or SAT Subject Tests.

Click here to read Dartmouth’s statement on standardized testing changes due to COVID-19.


Duke is test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

Note what they say: “We recognize that difficulties in registering for and taking the ACT and SAT are likely to persist for students applying to college this year, and that in general challenges associated with standardized testing fall disproportionately among those with the fewest resources.”

Duke also “plan[s] to take the year to assess the future role of standardized tests in our admissions process, particularly with respect to the impact of these tests on our ability to recruit and enroll students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.”

Click here to read Duke’s statement.



Georgetown has announced it is “implementing a flexible approach to [their] standardized testing requirements for applicants to the Class of 2025.” Interestingly, they don’t use the phrase test optional. In the next sentence, they note, “Georgetown values the information provided by standardized testing.”

Georgetown states that SAT Subject Tests are optional for 2020-2021 admissions.

Click here to read Georgetown’s statement on changes.


As of 6/16/20, Harvard is test optional for the upcoming admissions cycle.

Pay attention to their language: “We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has created insurmountable challenges in scheduling tests for all students, particularly those from modest economic backgrounds, and we believe this temporary change addresses these challenges.”

In the past, Harvard recommended “that you submit two SAT Subject Tests,” and my students who have earned admission there have always submitted them. Now Harvard is more explicit: “You will not be disadvantaged in any way if you do not submit subject tests.”

Click here to read Harvard’s statement on standardized testing policies for 2020-2021.


Johns Hopkins is test optional for for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

Click here to read JHU’s statement on standardized testing for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.


As of 5/18/2020, MIT still requires submission of either SAT or ACT scores.

From now on, MIT will “no longer consider the SAT Subject Tests” as part of the admissions process. That means, you cannot send them your scores. As MIT states:

“In fairness to all applicants, we won’t consider them for anyone. We think it would be unfair to consider scores only from those who have scored well and therefore choose to send them to us. They are neither recommended nor optional; they are simply not a part of our process anymore.”

Click here to read MIT’s statement on their updated standardized testing policies.


Northwestern is test optional for 2020-2021. This temporary policy “is in response to myriad obstacles students face — especially those from low-income backgrounds — in scheduling standardized testing opportunities amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Click here to read Northwestern’s statement.


Princeton is test optional for 2020-2021.

Click here to read Princeton’s statement on SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Test policies for 2020-2021.


Stanford has essentially gone test optional for 2020-2021, though without using that phrase. Stanford states they “will review applications with or without standardized test scores, leaving the decision in the hands of the applicant.”

Click here to read Stanford’s announcement on standardized testing policies for 2020-2021.


Lots of changes are taking place in the University of California’s use of standardized testing.

The University of California is going test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. However, sending your SAT or ACT scores “can support [your] statewide UC eligibility [and] application for certain scholarships,” but “campuses will adjust their internal processes accordingly to ensure that no student is harmed in admissions selection should they not submit a test score.”

Click here to read about the University of California’s standardized testing policy changes for 2020-2021.

Click here to read about their long-term test changes.


The University of Chicago is test optional, but pay close attention to their language.

The admissions team points out that “some applicants may feel that an SAT or ACT score does not fully reflect their academic preparedness or potential. If this is the case for you, you may select UChicago’s test-optional method of application and not supply SAT or ACT scores with your application.”

However, they also state that:

“The SAT, ACT, and other standard measures can continue to be an important part of the University of Chicago’s holistic admission process for students electing to send scores and are a required part of the application process at many other highly selective schools. These tests can provide valuable information about a student which we and other colleges will consider alongside the other elements in a student’s application. We encourage students to take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, and to share your scores with us if you think that they are reflective of your ability and potential. Given that many of our peers do require testing, we anticipate that the vast majority of students will continue to take tests and may still submit their test scores to UChicago.”

Click here to read the letter from the University of Chicago’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.


The University of Pennsylvania is test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. You can still submit your SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores.

Click here to read the University of Pennsylvania’s changes to standardized testing policy due to COVID-19.


The University of Southern California is test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

Click here to read the University of Southern California’s statement on going test optional.


Wellesley has “temporarily suspended its requirement that first-year applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.” You can still submit your SAT or ACT scores.

Click here to read Wellesley’s statement.


Williams is test optional during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. You can submit your SAT or ACT scores if you want and they “will be considered as part of the college’s holistic admission as they always have.”

Click here to read Williams’ statement on going test optional.


As of 6/12/20, Yale is test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle.

Yale “will not consider SAT Subject Tests for first-year applicants during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle (Class of 2025).” If you have already taken Subject Tests, Yale tells you to not self-report them in your application. If you send official score reports, they “will not be made available to the Admissions Committee.”

You can still self-report AP scores in your application if you believe your “results demonstrate strength in specific academic areas,” but “reporting them is entirely optional.” Yale states that they do “not expect students currently enrolled in academic-year courses associated with any of these tests to complete exams in spring or summer 2020. Students may choose to complete these exams this year if circumstances allow, or not.”

Click here to read Yale’s statement on changes to standardized testing due to the pandemic.



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