top of page

Can Applying Test-Optional Affect My Scholarships?

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

The short answer is YES. But, don’t think this means you necessarily need to take the SAT if you’re not swimming in cash. Read on for specifics.

Who sets these policies, and what are they?

There are no blanket testing policies for all universities: Individual colleges and universities decide their own policies. Public university systems may have mandates from the state — such as in Florida, where the Board of Governors requires first-year students to submit SAT scores — but even then, individual colleges set their own policies that work within the requirements set by the state. So, test-optional topics are almost always college-specific topics.

To complicate that a bit more, individual universities have separate offices for admission and financial aid, and those offices make policies separately, even if they sometimes coordinate. This is where the confusion comes about with test-optional, as test-optional policies are usually part of an admissions conversation. People assume that the admissions policies will carry over to financial aid policies — and it usually does, as test-optional is a philosophy — but, technically, this is an unfair assumption.

Just as the admissions office can set any policy they want (not just test-optional, but also test-blind or text-flexible or test-inflexible) the financial aid office determines what they require and evaluate for individual scholarships. Not only can that be anything, but it can have some nuance to it, varying from one award to another.

Yikes — how can I make sure I’m not missing out on scholarships?

First, check the page for scholarships and grants on the college's website. They may spell this out there, as they’ve certainly been getting the question in their office. Often enough, the website is clear as day. (Phew!)

But, if the test-optional merit aid policy is not there, or if it’s not 100% crystal clear and unambiguous, call or email the financial aid offices to ask the question. They will probably understand the question right away and help clear your doubt.

Annoyingly, you may get a more nuanced answer from the admissions or financial aid office if you call them and engage in a dialogue. Some small, private colleges have told my students on the phone that they’ll get more aid if they submit test scores above a certain threshold — encouraging them to sit for the test when they really weren’t planning to. While technically it’s not counter to the college's written policies, I do think it’s disingenuous for them to do this, as the test-optional movement is meant to lift the burden of the SAT/ACT from students’ shoulders. Even a "bonus offer" can be a burden in disguise.

Yes, there’s some legwork involved here! But, if merit aid is important to you, you’ll be glad for the clarity. Hopefully, you do all the research and discover none of your colleges are throwing a curveball at you.

Okay! Anything else I should be worried about?

Yes, maybe. If you’re hoping for admission to the university honors college, check their website too, as they too get to set their own policies.

What do I do if a college on my college list requires the SAT for merit aid?

DON’T go off and take the SAT for one college. If the test was burdensome for you before, why would a college’s policies change that?

I recommend modifying the college list before you change your testing plan. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Find the ones that work with you, not against you. If you’re having trouble identifying best-fit colleges, chat with a college consultant like me to see if we can help you widen your college search.

But, I really need the money! This isn’t fair!

To clarify, policies can vary for institutionally-granted merit aid. Test-optional rarely affects need-based aid, including federal (e.g. Pell grants and loans), state (Cal Grant), and institutional grants. If you have demonstrated need established by the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile, not submitting an SAT score to a test-optional college is not likely to hurt or help that.

Thinking about applying test-optional?

You should probably download our completely free resource, 7 Things You Should Know About Test Optional Admissions, so you can get the at-a-glance facts about test-optional and decide if it's right for you.

Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Parents, join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.


bottom of page