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Can I go to a university without taking the SAT or ACT?

At a glance

  • Standardized testing and scoring have long been a critical part of the admissions process for many universities in the United States. However, not all programs have SAT score or ACT score requirements.
  • These exams can be a barrier to education for low-income students who can’t afford prep or practice tests or to sit for the exam altogether, as well as capable students who struggle with the standardized testing model. 
  • California is the first state to eliminate all standardized testing requirements for public universities. Other institutions may follow suit in the coming years.
  • University of Phoenix is committed to flexible, online education and does not require standardized test scores as part of its admissions process. Explore more than 100 degree and certificate options that align to over 300 real-world careers to find the right degree for you!

Standardized exams, like the SAT and ACT, have long been a hallmark of the university admissions process in the United States and abroad. Standardized exams are essentially achievement tests designed to measure a student’s knowledge of the core curriculum studied in high school to gauge their preparedness for college. 

Many universities have required prospective students to attain a certain score on one or some of these in order to be considered for admittance. The more exclusive the school, the higher that threshold score typically becomes.

Times are changing, though. According to Forbes, more than 80% of four-year colleges will not require standardized testing for fall 2023 admissions. Whether this continues will likely depend on how these first few classes fare in their degree programs. For now, it’s important to understand which schools require them so you can be prepared to sit for the exam or find alternative pathways to a college degree. 

Explore more than 100 online programs aligned to 300+ real-world careers. 

The case against standardized testing

The coveted high test scores have been a barrier to many, especially those who cannot afford to take a practice test or the exam itself or hire a tutor to help them prepare. Those who experience test anxiety are also at a disadvantage when it comes to achieving the scores they need to meet the qualifications for entry to certain schools.

Some universities have decided standardized testing and submitting SAT, ACT or GRE scores is an outdated process for admittance. Some colleges are altering this requirement or allowing test scores to be an optional submission, leaving many to wonder just how many other institutions will follow this lead. University of Phoenix (UOPX), for example, has not required standardized test scores for admissions since it was founded in 1976. There are other universities that do not require them as part of their admission process, but most state and public schools still do.

California is the first state to eliminate standardized exam score requirements for public universities. The decision to eliminate this requirement or make it optional came on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many universities across the country suspended it for practical purposes. (It was impossible to administer the exams when everyone was quarantined at home.)

For California’s public universities, continuing this emergency measure after the emergency passed made sense. The goal — to open the door to higher education for those who’d been previously barred by poor test performance or lack of access to testing and test prep — was worthy. The elimination of standardized testing was welcome news to anyone interested in saving both time and money during the application process.

However, recent research from The Hechinger Report suggests there are drawbacks to this change. Specifically, the lack of test scores has made choosing which students will receive an acceptance letter more challenging. The entire admissions process, in fact, has leaned more toward subjectivity than before since deciding who gains entrance hinges on the person reviewing the applications. This has presented a new challenge for admission officers.

The Hechinger Report also observes: “Earlier quantitative studies found that the test-optional movement, which has spread to over 1,700 colleges, failed to substantially raise the share of low-income students or students of color.”

An NBC News report notes that the SAT offers certain egalitarian advantages: It’s available to everyone by way of waived fees for low-income students, including free practice tests.

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Alternative pathways to a college degree

What does that mean for you? If you haven’t taken an SAT in a decade or more, or if you’ve never performed well on tests but have solid grades and industry knowledge, you don’t necessarily have to wait for the sea change that’s on the horizon. As it turns out, questioning the value of standardized tests and an SAT score isn’t new, and other pathways to higher education exist.

Community college

If you’re looking to attend community college after high school, some colleges have gateway programs that allow students to transfer into a four-year university without taking the SAT or ACT. Usually, these students must meet other requirements for admission, such as filling out a college application, maintaining a certain GPA and successfully completing a set number of required courses.

University of Phoenix, for example, partners with institutionally accredited community colleges to make the transition from associate degree to bachelor’s degree a little smoother — and cheaper. The 3+1 transfer pathway, for example, allows students to take three years of general course requirements at a participating community college and complete a bachelor’s degree in a little over a year at University of Phoenix.

Community college transfer students also enjoy a discounted tuition rate at UOPX, saving $144 on every three-credit course. Applying to UOPX requires neither an ACT or SAT score nor prior college experience. There are college admissions counselors you can speak with today. Keep reading to learn more about this option at the end of this post.

Specific programs within a university

If you’re looking into graduate school but want to avoid standardized tests, like the GRE or GMAT, some colleges offer programs that do not require test scores.

This happens more frequently within arts programs, which tend to prioritize a portfolio of work and a personal essay over test scores. The thinking is that careers in the arts depend on a certain level of skill or talent in a given medium rather than overall competence in a variety of academic disciplines.

Searching for such programs can be tricky but not impossible. If you have your sights set on graduate school but would prefer to avoid taking one of the traditional achievement tests, try the following:

1. Seek out specific universities or programs you’re intrigued by and look at their requirements individually. You may be surprised by the flexibility you find and what is and isn’t optional.

2. Ask friends, family or academic counselors if they know of graduate programs that don’t require standardized test scores for admission.

3. Explore arts programs that support your career goals.

Admissions requirements at University of Phoenix

UOPX works hard to remove barriers to higher education and does not require standardized testing to enroll in a bachelor’s or master’s degree program.

Instead, prospective students interested in an associate or bachelor’s degree must meet the following admissions requirements:

1.    Have earned a high school diploma or GED

2.    Be at least 16 years old at the time of application (for a bachelor’s degree program)

3.    Be a citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. or hold an approved, valid visa (as well as meet an English proficiency requirement)

4.    Not have been expelled from a previous institution

5.    Complete all admission forms

6.    Submit official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended

7.    Meet any state/territory-specific requirements

Depending on the program, such as the nursing program, you may need additional licensure before gaining admission into it.

University of Phoenix is an attractive option for many adult students for more reasons than the lack of requirements around standardized test scores. In addition to flexible schedules and fixed tuition rates, the University offers a generous transfer credit policy for undergraduate degrees and a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) that can offer some college credits for qualifying life or work experience. Learn more about PLA options when speaking to your college admissions representative.

UOPX is also proud to provide active students and graduates with career services and support, including career coaching, resumé building, job search support and more for the rest of their careers. UOPX offers online certificate programs, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and doctoral programs.

Learn more about the admissions process at University of Phoenix!

Photo of Aleece Reynaga


Aleece Reynaga is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She has written for The Los Angeles Times and holds an MFA from Columbia University in Fiction. She currently applies her love of process and properly edited copy to University of Phoenix's PhoenixConnect blog, but in her spare time, you'll find her reading science fiction/fantasy, honing her Fortnite gaming skills or checking out LA's vegan scene.


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