Despite rumors to the contrary, standardized test scores remain essential components of the admissions process at most American colleges and universities. If you’re wondering if the school of your choice requires the SAT or ACT, the answer is almost certainly a resounding “Yes.” And, yes, those scores should be as high as possible… test scores for admitted freshmen are even rising at test-optional schools.
Furthermore, you need not agonize over which college entrance exam to submit, as every school today accepts the SAT and ACT equally. You are free to present whichever scores best enhance your application.
That said, some aspects of these standardized tests matter far more to some schools than others. College admissions offices set policies specific to their schools in order to acquire the testing data they want. Learn those policies in advance to ensure you meet every requirement of your target schools without having to endure superfluous testing:
1. Do you require or recommend the SAT or ACT essay?
Since the latest SAT revision, the essay has become an optional section of both the SAT and ACT. Students can, at least as far as the test makers are concerned, skip the essay with impunity, as neither exam incorporates the essay results in its Composite score. Nonetheless, a number of colleges still require or recommend that students sit for the essay. Don’t skip out on this section until you have assurances that you won’t need it.
2. Do you require or recommend SAT Subject Tests?
Of all the exams that play a role in college admissions, SAT Subject Tests tend to be the least understood. Less prestigious than APs and less influential than the SAT or ACT, the Subject Tests often feel like a secret kept from high schoolers until it’s too late to do anything about them. Find out if Subject Tests matter to your target schools. If so, get smart about which SAT Subject Tests to take and when.
3. Do you superscore the SAT and/or ACT?
Believe it or not, we’ve come a long way from the earliest days of the SAT. For a long time, applicants had no choice but to submit every official test score. These days, we have choice about which scores to send. Even better, colleges have adopted generous new ways to interpret these scores. Many schools will superscore the SAT or ACT, which means they will select the best section scores from multiple submitted tests and piece together the best Composite score based on those sections. However, every college adopts its own policy. Take the time to learn the specific superscore policy for each of your target schools in order to plan how many times you might take the SAT or ACT.
Be advised that school policies regarding these three important components of college applications change from year to year, sometimes even from month to month. Do your research using the most updated tools at your disposal. The College Board Big Future College Search engine offers an extensive clearinghouse of information, as does Naviance for those with school or access. If the number of schools on your list is small, you may prefer to go straight to the source by visiting each college’s Admissions page. Even better, call the school directly: asking smart questions not only puts you in a better position to submit a winning application, but also signals to admissions officers just how smart you really are!