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Standardized testing, for better or for worse, can be a distinguishing piece of your child’s application. Students with subpar test results and an otherwise strong academic record should look to SAT/ACT optional institutions to help improve their chances of getting admitted. Here are some of the best test-optional and test-flexible schools in the U.S.

Wesleyan University – Middletown, CT

While the school’s student body is slightly larger than similar schools in New England, Wesleyan maintains a strong sense of academic and personal freedom on campus for students. It is known as a diverse and progressive place to spend four years.

Bowdoin College – Brunswick, ME

Viewed as one the premier liberal arts colleges in the country, Bowdoin is located in a charming and vibrant small-town setting just north of Portland.

Middlebury College – Middlebury, VT (test flexible)

If your calling is the outdoors, Middlebury may be the place for you. The school’s rural setting is coupled with a test-flexible policy. This means that students can submit three SAT Subject Tests in place of the SAT or ACT.

Colby College – Waterville, ME (test flexible)

In a similar manner to its Maine counterparts at Bowdoin and Bates, Colby’s academic experience is built upon close relationships between students and professors. The school offers specialized writing programs for students in the humanities and has an acceptance rate around 25%.

Hamilton College – Clinton, NY (test flexible)

As the third oldest college in New York, Hamilton combines a long-standing academic reputation with an increasingly diverse student body. An all-male school until 1978, students from nearly 50 countries are now represented on campus. For those interested in study abroad, Hamilton is affiliated with more than 100 programs around the world.

Smith College – Northampton, MA

Located in a bustling and quirky town called Northampton, Smith has been an all-women’s college since its inception. With membership to the “Five College Consortium,” students have access to nearby institutions such as Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts. Smith offers the Picker Engineering program, unique among women’s colleges.

College of the Holy Cross – Worcester, MA

Holy Cross combines the community feel of a small liberal arts college with an urban environment, larger student body (just under 3,000 total) and Division-1 athletics. In a recent study, HC alumni ranked in the top 10 for mid-career salaries.

Franklin & Marshall College – Lancaster, PA

Surrounded by the rural farm land of central Pennsylvania, F&M sits squarely within the city of Lancaster with a total enrollment of just over 2,000. Dickinson College (below) is a comparable institution in terms of size and campus setting.

University of Rochester – Rochester, NY (test flexible)

As one of the larger institutions on this list, Rochester is a top-ranked research institution that provides students with options for graduate-level studies in medicine, business, nursing and education. The majority of undergrads will enroll in the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering, with a smaller number in the world-renowned Eastman School of Music.

Colorado College – Colorado Springs, CO (test flexible)

CC has become increasingly popular in recent years – and for good reason. Surrounded by a picturesque mountain setting, the school combines an urban feel with an outdoorsy vibe. It’s well-known for the “Block Plan,” where students take one course at a time for a 3.5 week block. The total enrollment is just over 2,000 and its acceptance rate is under 20%.

Bryn Mawr College – Bryn Mawr, PA

Like Smith, Bryn Mawr is an all-female institution. Located outside of Philadelphia on a beautiful gothic campus, students can enroll in courses at nearby schools such as Haverford, Swarthmore and Penn. The talented and diverse student body is around 1,300 total.

Union College – Schenectady, NY

Union was founded in 1795 and was a men’s college until 1970. The historic liberal arts college also offers ABET-accredited engineering programs and offers a vibrant Greek scene on campus.

Bates College – Lewiston, ME

With a tight-knit and inviting community, the Bates campus is known as a welcoming setting to spend four years and a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Relative to its size, Bates graduated an impressive 19 Fulbright Scholars from the class of 2015.

Brandeis University – Waltham, MA

Located just west of Boston, Brandeis is a small research institution founded in 1948. It’s a nonsectarian institution but is sponsored by the Jewish community. Brandeis enrolls more than 5,500 students total, with 25% of its students coming from outside the US.

New York University (NYU) – New York, NY (test flexible)

Set in the heart of Manhattan, NYU’s setting provides students with exciting opportunities for internships, theater and museums. Founded in 1831, NYU is the largest private university in the US. Students enroll in the College of Arts and Science, Stern School of Business, Tandon School of Engineering or Tisch School of the Arts, among others. NYU even has campuses in Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai.

Trinity College (CT) – Hartford, CT (test flexible)

While the city of Hartford has had its struggles, Trinity has worked hard to provide its students with opportunities both on-campus and abroad. More than 50% of students will study in a foreign country during their four years, many venturing to Trinity’s satellite campus in Rome.

University of Texas, Austin – Austin, TX

While many think football when it comes to UT, the school has become a highly reputable academic institution over the past twenty years. The cost of attending UT is very low for in-state students and the alumni network is sizable and loyal. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the US and is known for technology, live music and its socially progressive vibe.

Sewanee – University of the South – Sewanee, TN

While Sewanee has come on the scene in recent years, it is often overshadowed by larger universities in the South, such as Emory and Vanderbilt. That said, the tight-knit campus of 1,600 students enjoys more than 12,000 acres of land. The school maintains a strong affiliation with the Episcopal Church.

Dickinson College – Carlisle, PA

With a strong liberal arts focus, Dickinson is known for its innovative curriculum and focus on international education. Dickinson offers a 3:2 engineering program with Case Western Reserve, Columbia or RPI. The school’s setting makes it easily accessible from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC.

Connecticut College – New London, CT

Founded in 1911, Conn College is young compared to its peer institutions, but has made a name for itself with Fulbright recipients. Originally founded as a women’s college, the school’s student body is still around 60% female.

Mount Holyoke College – South Hadley, MA

Like Smith, Mt. Holyoke’s student body is all women and also a member of the Five College Consortium. While the school’s admissions rates are low, it still is considered less competitive than Smith and Wellesley.

Denison University – Granville, OH

The town of Granville is small (just under 6,000 residents total), but Denison has become one of the most highly reputed liberal arts institutions in the Midwest. Like Connecticut College, Denison is around 60% women. In recent years, the acceptance rate has consistently hovered around 50%.

Test-optional and test-flexible schools can be a saving grace for students and parents alike. With that said, it is important that you and your child not misconstrue the test-optional label for a less competitive admissions decision. Each of these 20 institutions maintain a high standard when it comes to evaluating your child’s entire application.

Want to learn how your child can best prepare themselves to get admitted? Schedule a complimentary 30 minute admissions consultation today.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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