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20 Great Colleges for Students with Low SAT Scores

Low SAT Scores Don't Need to Ruin the Hopes of Otherwise Strong Students


Let's face it -- some strong students just don't do well on standardized tests. More and more schools are recognizing this fact, and the list of test-optional colleges continues to grow. Other excellent colleges require standardized test scores, but their average scores are well below what we see for the Ivy League and elite liberal arts colleges.

Of the 20 colleges and universities in the list below, many are highly selective schools with test-optional admissions policies. Others are colleges that offer top-notch academics, but are likely to admit students with mid-range SAT scores.

Arcadia University

Arcadia University Castle
jackskellington101 / Flickr
Located just 25 minutes from Center City, Philadelphia, Arcadia University features small classes and one of the best study abroad programs in the country. Visitors can't miss the stunning historic landmark, Gray Towers Castle.
  • Location: Glenside, Pennsylvania
  • SAT Reading (Middle 50%): 500 / 610
  • SAT Math (Middle 50%): 490 / 590
  • Test-Optional? No

Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College
sglickman / Flickr

Bowdoin is the most selective college on this list, so applicants will need an impressive academic and extra-curricular record. The school was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its excellent in the liberal arts and sciences, and the school recently changed its financial aid practices so that all new students will graduate debt free.

  • Location: Brunswick, Maine
  • SAT Reading (Middle 50%): 650 / 740
  • SAT Math (Middle 50%): 650 / 730
  • Test-Optional? Yes

College of the Atlantic

College of the Atlantic
The Udall Legacy Bus Tour / Flickr

COA features a beautiful location on the Maine coast, a carbon-neutral campus with impressive environmental initiatives, a 9 to 1 student / faculty ratio, and an innovative interdisciplinary curriculum with a Human Ecology focus.

  • Location: Bar Harbor, Maine
  • SAT Reading (average score): 647
  • SAT Math (average score): 589
  • Test-Optional? Yes

College of the Holy Cross

College of the Holy Cross
GeorgeThree / Flickr

Holy Cross has an impressive retention and graduation rate, with well over 90% of entering students earning a degree within six years. The college was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, and the school's 10 to 1 student / faculty ratio means that students will have a lot of personal interaction with their professors.

  • Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
  • SAT Reading (Middle 50%): 580 / 670
  • SAT Math (Middle 50%): 600 / 680
  • Test-Optional? Yes

George Mason University

George Mason University
funkblast / Flickr
The 2009 U.S. News & World Report ranked George Mason #1 among "up and coming" colleges, and it's easy to see why with the school's rapid expansion since its founding in 1972. The university's preprofessional programs such as business, engineering, education and nursing are all popular among undergraduates.
  • Location: Fairfax, Virginia
  • SAT Reading (Middle 50%): 500 / 600
  • SAT Math (Middle 50%): 520 / 610
  • Test-Optional? Yes

Hampshire College

Hampshire College
redjar / Flickr
Hampshire College has never been fond of conformity, so it's no surprise the school has test-optional admissions. If you like to think outside the box, if you enjoy debate, if you'd like to design your own major, if you'd like to be evaluated qualitatively, not quantitatively -- then Hampshire might be a good choice.
  • Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
  • SAT Reading (Middle 50%): 610 / 700
  • SAT Math (Middle 50%): 540 / 660
  • Test-Optional? Yes

Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College
John Phelan/Wikimedia Commons
Founded in 1837, Mount Holyoke College is the oldest of the "seven sister" colleges, and it consistently ranks as one of the top women's colleges in the country. Mount Holyoke features a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and a beautiful campus where students can enjoy the college's botanic gardens, two lakes, waterfalls, and horseback-riding trails.
  • Location: South Hadley, Massachusetts
  • Test-Optional? Yes

Pitzer College

Pitzer College Quad
Whoaboy / Wikimedia Commons
Don't be fooled by Pitzer's small size -- students can easily take courses at any of the Claremont Colleges. The college places a strong emphasis on study abroad and community service, and students can expect lots of student/faculty interaction. Pitzer is particularly strong in the social sciences.
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • SAT Reading (Middle 50%): 580 / 680
  • SAT Math (Middle 50%): 560 / 650
  • Test-Optional? Yes

Ripon College

Ripon College, Smith Hall
Madmaxmarchhare / Wikimedia Commons
Ripon has much to be proud of: Phi Beta Kappa membership; high retention and graduation rates; generous financial aid; excellent value; and a Collaborative Learning Center that provides valuable support for students who need a little extra help
  • Location: Ripon, Wisconsin
  • SAT Reading (Middle 50%): 440 / 610
  • SAT Math (Middle 50%): 480 / 650
  • Test-Optional? No

Sarah Lawrence College

Sarah Lawrence College
Mr.Scholastic / Flickr
Located in Bronxville, New York, Sarah Lawrence has an amazing 6 to 1 student / faculty ratio and students will find that teaching truly is valued more than faculty research. The application process does not consider standardized test scores at all; in fact, Sarah Lawrence was a leader in the test-optional movement. The college's quaint campus has the feel of a European village.

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