The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many universities to adopt test optional policies for students. “Test optional” means that a university won’t require you to submit your SAT scores as part of your application. COVID-19 has made taking the SAT difficult for many applicants, so universities are trying to alleviate some of the stress by going test optional!
It might seem like this is a pandemic trend in higher education, but actually, many schools across the country went test optional long before COVID was a thing. And since test optional schools make the SAT...well, optional, you might be wondering, “Do I have to take the SAT at all?”
The answer is a little more complicated than just a “yes” or “no.” We’ll help you answer the question, “Do you need to take the SAT?” in this article, along with:
- Explaining whether you have to take the SAT to graduate from high school
- Going over how the SAT fits into the college application process (and if you should take it)
- Discussing how the SAT impacts your ability to get scholarship money
- Giving you four reasons you may not have to take the SAT
- Outlining the reasons you might want to take the SAT no matter what
Let’s get started!
Do You Have to Take the SAT? A Quick Overview
If you’re wondering, “Do I have to take the SAT,” the answer is...it depends. While figuring out whether your target schools are test optional or not is important, there are also other factors to consider.
For instance, some high schools require you to take the SAT in order to graduate. And even if your college is test optional, you may need to have SAT scores in order to qualify for certain scholarships or admission into specific degree programs.
In other words: just because you’re applying to test optional schools doesn’t necessarily mean you can skip the SAT! Keep reading for in-depth explanations about why you might (or might not) need to take the SAT in different scenarios.
Whether or not you have to take the SAT for college depends on the university you apply to.
Do You Have to Take the SAT for College?
Like with high school graduation, there are certain situations where you may have to take the SAT to get into college. We’ll go over two of them below:
#1: Your University Applications Require Standardized Test Scores
No surprise here: some universities will require you to submit standardized test scores no matter what. Many universities use these test scores as a way to determine whether you have the fundamental skills you’ll need to succeed at their school. And while it’s okay for you to apply to universities with a lower SAT score, the truth is that higher SAT scores tend to raise your chances of admission. (This is especially true at highly competitive schools like the Ivy League universities.)
Nowadays, universities accept either the ACT or SAT in order to fulfill the standardized test requirement. Furthermore, admissions counselors don’t prefer one test over another. So while you might have to take a standardized test, you still have a little wiggle room to decide whether the SAT is the right test for you.
#2: Your Department Requires SAT Scores
Even if your university doesn’t require test scores, the department your major is in might. (Not sure what a major is? Stop and read this article before continuing on.)
This is especially true if you plan to major in one of your university’s most competitive or prestigious programs. It’s not unusual for engineering, business, computer science, and health professions programs to have minimum SAT score requirements.
For example, at the University of Kansas (which is currently test optional) students who want to major in architecture have to make an 1160 or higher on the SAT in order to be admitted into the program. Students who want to major in business, design, or engineering also have to meet minimum SAT score requirements before they’re admitted to their department.
The University of Houston also has SAT requirements for certain departments. Students who want to major in nursing have to score a 1220 or above on the SAT (and make at least a 630 on the SAT Reading section). Depending on their class rank, they may need an even higher score. Future nursing students who are in the bottom 50% of their graduating class have to make a 1300 or better!
So if you’re asking yourself, “Do I need to take the SAT test,” make sure you do some research on the universities you’re applying to. You might have to end up with a pretty high SAT score in order to get into the program of your dreams!
If you're not planning on going to college, do you still have to take the SAT? Maybe. We'll explain below.
Do I Need to Take the SAT for High School Graduation?
Most students will be told they need to take the SAT or ACT in high school. The truth is that it depends! If you’re planning to go to college, you’ll likely have to take the ACT or SAT for admissions purposes. (This isn’t true at all schools—more on that later.)
In some states in the United States, students take the SAT for assessment purposes through something called the SAT School Days program. In these cases, your SAT score usually doesn’t impact your ability to graduate, but it does give you a free chance to take the SAT for free and submit those scores to potential universities. SAT School Days is actually pretty convenient: you’ll be able to take the SAT on a regular ol’ school day, which saves you from having to go to a special testing site on a Saturday.
Do I Need to Take the SAT For High School Summer Programs?
If you’re super serious about getting into a top college, you might want to consider participating in a summer education program while you’re in high school.
Some of the top summer programs for high schoolers do require the SAT. For instance, Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search Program, or NUMATS, you’ll have to take either the PSAT, ACT, or—you guessed it!—the SAT. Your test score is what helps you qualify for NUMATS!
The Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins (CTY) also requires students take the SAT as part of the application process. The CTY requires students to take the SAT as 7th graders in order to qualify for programs like Family Academic Programs, Academic Explorations, or the CTY Online.
If there’s a particular summer program you have your heart set on, be sure to research the requirements ahead of time to see if you need to take the SAT to qualify. Remember: the SAT only offers a few testing dates in the spring, so a little research now can help you avoid a lot of heartbreak later.
4 Reasons You Might NOT Have to Take the SAT
So do you have to take the SAT, no matter what? Maybe not! There are definitely some instances where you can skip the SAT and still graduate from high school...and even get into a post-secondary program.
Check out the four scenarios where you don’t have to take the SAT at all.
#1: Your School Is Test Optional
When a student asks, “Do I have to take the SAT,” a guidance counselor might suggest they apply to a test optional school. Like we mentioned earlier, test optional universities give students the option to submit their SAT scores...or not!
Furthermore, if students choose not to submit SAT scores, it doesn’t adversely affect their application. Admissions counselors will look at the other elements of the application--like transcripts, admissions essays, and letters of recommendation--instead.
If you go the test optional route and punt on your SAT scores, that means you need to really knock the rest of your application out of the park. Make sure you’re spending enough time on your essays so that they’re as perfect as they can be, and make sure you ask your teachers for letters of recommendation in advance.
And if you’re a freshman or sophomore, you have plenty of time to build up that resume, too! Pick one or two extracurricular activities so you can build a spike into your application, and try and tackle AP or IB classes to boost your GPA.
#2: You’re Applying to International Universities
If you want to get your undergraduate degree from a university in another country, you may not have to take the SAT as part of the admissions process.
For instance, Humboldt University in Berlin doesn’t require the SAT at all! In order to apply, all you’ll need is your academic transcript, proof of language proficiency, your CV or resume, and your self-assessment sheet that you can download and complete.
It’s a similar situation for the University of Stockholm in Sweden. International students have to submit proof of graduation, your high school transcript, proof of identification...but no SAT scores.
But just because you don’t have to submit SAT scores doesn’t mean you won’t have to take a test to get into an international school! Many schools require you to pass a language exam (similar to the TOEFL) to prove you’re able to read, write, and speak the primary language of the country. Likewise, you may have to take and pass different entrance exams! For example, students applying to Osaka University in Japan have to take one of three different tests in order to qualify for admission.
If you're going to community college, there's a solid chance you won't have to take the SAT.
#3: You’re Planning on Going to Community College
The good news is that the vast majority of community colleges don’t require the SAT for admission. That’s because community colleges are usually considered open enrollment schools. As long as you have a GED or high school diploma, you should be able to enroll in classes at your local community college.
Having said that, there are a few community college programs that might require SAT scores. If the program transfers into a four-year university, you may have to take the SAT before you finish your community college coursework. Be sure to check with your community college to see if there are any SAT requirements you need to know about.
#4: You’re Planning on Going to Trade School
Just like community colleges, trade schools usually don’t require the SAT. They’re also considered open enrollment, and they usually don’t require a high school diploma or GED. Because trade school programs don’t usually allow you to transfer into a college, you may not have to take the SAT at any point!
Even if the SAT is optional for you, you might take the SAT anyway. Read on to learn why.
3 Reasons Why You Should Take the SAT Anyway
It might sound like you can choose test optional schools and skip taking the SAT entirely. Not so fast, buddy. It turns out that even if you can skip the SAT, that doesn’t mean you should.
Here are three reasons you might consider taking the SAT, even if you don’t have to.
#1: Test Optional Schools Still Look at Scores
Have you heard the saying, “if it’s too good to be true, it might actually be?” Well, it turns out that test optional policies might be just that.
Universities have gone test optional in the name of access. By not requiring SAT scores, universities are trying to give more students the ability to apply for admission. This is especially true for good students who just aren’t great test takers, or for students who can’t afford to retake a standardized test to raise their scores. By dropping standardized tests, schools are attempting to remove a barrier to access.
Unfortunately, test optional policies might not be enough to fix that problem. For example, the University of Pennsylvania, which was test optional in 2020, reported that 75% of students who were accepted early admission submitted test scores.
So based on current evidence, it looks like submitting SAT scores to test optional schools--especially if they’re high--can increase your chances of admission.
Additionally, a recent scientific study found that test optional policies don’t actually increase diversity, either. That means students from marginalized or underrepresented groups aren’t any more likely to get into a school because it’s test optional.
#2: Many Scholarships Require SAT Scores
If you're hoping to get some free money for school, the SAT may be in your future. That’s because many scholarships require you to submit SAT scores as part of the application process.
One big example of this is the Gates Scholarship, which is essentially a full-ride, renewable scholarship. Even some of the smaller awards--like these weird scholarships you can win!--ask for standardized test scores. So as you’re wondering, “Do I have to take the SAT,” be sure you research scholarships you’re interested in. If they require the SAT, then make sure you take it!
#3: You Have More Flexibility
Even though there are many schools in the United States that have gone test optional, the majority of universities still require the SAT. (Also keep in mind that many schools went test optional during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they may switch back to requiring the SAT once the pandemic is over.)
If you take the SAT, then you’ll be able to apply to pretty much any US university you’d like--as long as you meet the minimum score requirements, that is. You don’t want to get in a situation where you’ve skipped the SAT only to find a college that’s perfect for you...but requires the test. Remember that there are only a few SAT test dates every year, so you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you have to pass on a school because you haven’t taken the test!
If you’re trying to figure out whether you need to take the SAT to get into a specific college, our comprehensive list of test optional schools can help.
If you’re looking for more information about the SAT in general, be sure to check out our SAT primer. We’ll go over everything you need to know about the test.
If you’re struggling to prep for the SAT, don’t worry: our blog has tons of free SAT resources for you! Be sure to check out this guide to getting a perfect score, this list of the SAT strategies you need to know, and this review of the best SAT prep books you can buy.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.