Applying to college can be one of the most stressful events of a high school student’s life — and directly affects their parents’ well-being, too. Often the culminating experience of high school for an increasing number of Americans, it can feel like a referendum on ability and worth. That’s a lot of pressure.

And then there are the standardized tests.

The popularity of tests like the SAT and ACT have increased exponentially since they were first offered in 1926 and 1958, respectively, profiting off colleges’ and universities’ search for metrics by which to measure students’ candidacies. But their growth started to encounter pushback and uncertainty in the nineties, amidst questions about what exactly the tests were measuring.

Although SAT scores do correlate with success in the first year of college (although not necessarily graduation rates), they are also deeply correlated with race and wealth.

These doubts about the efficacy — and fairness — of the SAT and tests like it have led a growing number of colleges and universities to abandon standardized testing as a central part of their admission policy: 50 percent of the top 100 liberal arts colleges and 50 percent of colleges in the Northeast are now test optional. The University of Chicago, too, is going test optional this year, and Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, called for a now-underway look into the value of standardized tests in the admission process.

For any of the students (or adults) who have struggled with these notoriously stressful tests, this news will be welcome. The process of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds submitting themselves to institutions of higher ed for judgement can be a harrowing one, especially when, on the huge scale of college admissions, the question of what “success” and “potential” look like can feel so arbitrary.

So, for those applying to school now (or with children doing so) and looking to manage the stress of the process, check out the test-optional colleges and universities below.

Liberal Arts Colleges

1) Bard College

2) Bates College

3) Bowdoin College

4) Bryn Mawr College

5) College of the Holy Cross

6) Connecticut College

7) Franklin and Marshall College

8) Hampshire College

9) Hobart and William Smith Colleges

10) Ithaca College

11) Manhattanville College

12) Mount Holyoke College

13) Muhlenberg College

14) Providence College

15) Pitzer College (for students with GPAs of 3.5 or higher or who are in the top 10 percent of their class)

16) Sarah Lawrence College

17) Skidmore College

18) Smith College (for US citizens/permanent residents)

19) Trinity College

20) Whitman College


1) Brandeis University

2) Clark University

3) Drake University

4) Fairfield University

5) The George Washington University

6) Hofstra University

7) James Madison University

8) Lawrence University

9) Loyola University Maryland

10) The New School

11) New York University (test flexible — there are a wide variety of exams that suffice for admittance)

12) Temple University

13) University of Chicago

14) University of Evansville

15) University of Iowa

16) University of Rochester (test flexible — there are a wide variety of exams that suffice for admittance)

17) University of Texas, Austin (for students in the top 8 percent of their classes)

18) Wake Forest University

19) Wesleyan University (for students attending US/Canadian high schools)

20) Worcester Polytechnic Institute 


  • Nora Battelle

    Multimedia Staff Writer at Thrive

    Nora Battelle is a writer from New York City. Her work has been published on the Awl, the Hairpin, and the LARB blog, and she's written for podcast and film. At Swarthmore College, she studied English and French literature and graduated with Highest Honors. She's fascinated by language, culture, the internet, and all the small choices that can help us thrive.