This is a question many students struggle with. I'm glad you asked it! Before jumping into an answer, some history may be helpful. To begin with, the first colleges that dropped out of requiring tests did so because they felt the SAT was seriously flawed, not because they necessarily wanted to give lower-scoring students a break. That may have been the byproduct, but it was not the sole intent.
Since then, many critics feel the SAT has remained flawed. Complicating matters, the SAT has changed several times over.This may be to address that perception of being a problematic test (they may say they've changed the test to better capture student's range of intelligences). But all these changes have only muddied the waters.
Each time the SAT changes, there is a universal and loud groan from the admissions world. And from the students who have to suffer through the unknown of a new format. That first group of new test-takers has little idea of what's in store for them. The admissions officers looking at an applicant's test scores can't comfortably assess student performance on a brand new type of test. What happens if everyone bombs? Or no one gets a decent score on a given section? Common sense would suggest that the new test is guilty - and may need to be re-tweaked - not that the test-takers are deficient. Anyone taking a classroom test in high school is familiar with this scenario. The point is, no one really has solid guideposts on a newly changed exam. Until the dust settles, that first year is like a beta year. How useful or fair is that? Not terribly.
Importantly, colleges like to feel they have some say over the academic "indicators" these tests are supposed to provide. For years now, admissions officers have significantly disregarded the scores on the essay section of the SAT. This is because of how those essays are scored (quite subjectively), and because most people don't write well in a panicked, high-stress situation, (one caveat: a very low score is concerning, and very high scores can provide the reality check that well-crafted essays were actually written by the applicant, not by essay writers). Many admissions folks may look at test scores with a healthy does of skepticism and see these exams within the context of their testing limitations. (Of note, the SAT and ACT don't test for musical ability, creativity, problem-solving, spatial intelligence, emotional intelligence, artistic talent, analytical ability, sports/athletic prowess, and on and on.)
Unlike the ACT which has stayed true to it's core, the SAT seems to keep striving for it's true identity. Having finally caved to offering some of the features of the ACT - for example, score choice - it's still mutating. Here's a factoid, the SAT has changed it's name four times: from the Scholastic Aptitude Test to the Scholastic Assessment Test to the SAT reasoning to - heck - now just the SAT. I rest my case.They have a bad case of who am I. The SAT has also had some serious missteps. Notably, there has been the incorrect scoring of thousand and thousands of tests at some test administrations.
All of this has led to increasing dissatisfaction with the SAT, and standardized tests in general, Of note, all these tests, and test changes, have spawned a huge industry of test prep programs and private consultants. The argument has been made that this has advantaged those students who can afford to hire those services. Whatever the rationale, a sizable number of colleges have now decided to retreat from this amped-up, intense testing landscape and offer students another option. Test-optional.
This all said, I don't want to suggest you now have an easy ride. You mention that you have a "pretty good academic profile." I'm not sure what that means. Are you a B student? An A minus student? What kind of courses do you take? How challenging are your classes relative to what your school offers? If your school offers a wide range of APs and honors, and you have not taken any of these classes, this is as defining to your academic profile as a test score. All of this impacts how your application will be reviewed - sans test.
Here's the sticky wicket: competitive schools that offer a test-optional choice tend to look for especially strong performance in other academic areas. Grades. Course difficulty. If you can't present a college with test scores, they're going to look to evidence you have the mental crunch power to succeed in their program. For example at a test-optional school like Wake Forest, their expectation will be that you have incredibly strong academics. Translation: that you took some of the most demanding courses your school offers (you wont be penalized if they offer few), that you have a high GPA, and that you rank highly within your class. You don't need killer test scores. You may need very impressive academics. That's the admissions benchmark at a school like this.
My feeling is that one type of student who is best served by applying to a test-optional school is a straight-A student, the kind who shows up at every class, meets regularly with teachers, and just through sheer force of will, smarts and hard work gets great grades in demanding classes. However in a testing environment, they freeze up. Or just can't mentally process the types of questions and answers that these tests require for good scores. These individuals present with a wide gap between test performance and school/life performance. These students can potentially file a winning application at a school like Wake. But I don't want to speak for any college - your best bet is to contact schools directly about how holistic the admission process is for students taking advantage of the test-option choice.
Most importantly, you need to target those colleges where your academic profile and extracurriculars will be reviewed favorably, and where you are a fit. Low test scores can doom a college application. Now that you don't need to submit them, you still need to be very strategic about where to apply. For a full list of all test-optional colleges go to www.fairtest.org. As their name suggests, they have played a leadership role in test fairness.
A final caveat: (not to dwell on Wake - though I think highly of the school), when Wake Forest first announced they were switching over to a test-optional admissions policy, test-challenged students all over the nation rejoiced. Here was a great school taking down that one barrier to entry! Well yes, and well, no. In that inaugural year, Wake Forest was inundated by a tidal wave of applications making it one of the competitive years ever. It was probably easier to win the state lottery than win admission to Wake. Since that announcement, this college has continued to rise in the rankings making it one of the most selective and popular schools in the country. My advice is this: anticipate this potential phenomenon when applying to a school.
George Washington U just announced they have become test-optional. I'm not a futurist, but possibly the first year or two of this new policy will create a record number of applications to this school as well- allowing GW to be choosier about whom they admit. I'm also a fan of GW. Given GW's recent ranking by Princeton Review as a "Top College that Creates Futures" (Wake made the list as well), I'm betting this will be a banner year for the school.
I hope I have given you enough background, and practical advice to make some smart decisions. Best of luck with your applications!