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Over the past two years, there has been quite a bit of upheaval in the world of college admissions and standardized testing.  Many schools are now “test-optional,” meaning that students can submit SAT and ACT test scores if they would like, but they are not required to do so.  Given the media reports about standardized tests, some parents and students may wonder if they should even bother taking the SAT or ACT.  Here are five reasons why taking the SAT or ACT is a still a wise choice in this uncertain environment. 

1.  Nearly all colleges would like to see your scores.

From what is covered in the news, it sounds like most schools do not care about evaluating your test scores.  According to fairtest.org, the reality is that only 3.7% of U.S. colleges are “test-blind,” meaning they do not consider test scores.  The most well-known test-blind schools are the colleges in the University of California system; the others are predominately smaller liberal arts colleges.  This means that  96.3% of U.S. colleges either require the SAT or ACT or will consider SAT/ACT scores if submitted.  Some, like Georgetown University, West Point, and the University of Florida, have required standardized test results even during the pandemic.  Others, like Ivy League Schools and Big Ten universities, give students the option to submit test scores, recognizing that there have been test site cancellations and health concerns that may have precluded students from being able to test. 

Probably the most well-known example of a test-optional university is Harvard.  When you look at their admissions website, you will see that they would indeed like to see your standardized test results if possible:

“Harvard accepts other standardized tests or other academic credentials if you choose to submit them. In any admissions process, additional information can be helpful. For example, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, A-levels, national leaving examinations, national or international contests, early high school assessment scores such as the PSAT or pre-ACT, or courses taken outside your school during the school year or summer are just some examples of information that could be submitted.”

If you call the Harvard admissions office, they enthusiastically encourage students to submit standardized test results—an admissions officer told me that the majority of applicants do submit test scores, and they would like you to send in your scores if you are able to test.  The bottom line is that colleges prefer as much information as possible to make an admissions decision, and they consider standardized tests an important metric in evaluating applicants. 

2.  Test scores provide protection against grade inflation. 

According to the Department of Education and the College Board, the average High School GPA was 2.68 in 1990, and 3.38 in 2016.  A recent national survey of K-8 parents found that 90% of parents believe that their child is achieving at or above grade level, and that 66 percent think that their kid is above average.  Inflated GPAs may give parents and students an incorrect impression of academic readiness, and they make it more challenging for college admissions officers to differentiate among applicants.  Consider this excerpt from the Harvard admissions website

“Given the wide variation in how students prepare for Harvard – as well as the fact that most applicants and admitted students have outstanding academic records – it is difficult for high school grades to differentiate individual applications. That does not mean that high school grades are unimportant. Students who come to Harvard have done well day to day in their high school studies, providing a crucial foundation for academic success in college, including a 97% – 98% graduation rate.  SAT and ACT tests are better predictors of Harvard grades than high school grades”. 

Good grades are certainly a key part of a successful college application.  However, students will stand out among the applicants if they have good test scores as well. 

3.  Those who submit test scores likely have a better chance of earning admission. 

According to the Future of Higher Education Newsletter, those who submit test scores are admitted at a rate that is often twice as much as those who do not submit test scores.  Here are some examples for applicants in the fall of 2021:

  • Emory: Admit rate 17% (with tests) vs. 8.6% (without tests)
  • Colgate: 25% (with tests) vs. 12% (without tests)
  • Georgia Tech: 22% (with tests) vs. 10% (without tests)

Colleges will happily accept applications from anyone who wishes to submit one—after all, they receive application fees and will see improved selectivity statistics.  Colleges will need to see clear evidence of academic strength in other areas to be confident about students who do not submit test scores.  To have a successful application, students would be smart to include test scores that demonstrate their readiness for college-level work. 

4.  Good test scores can lead to substantial scholarships. 

  • For those seeking major merit awards to Ohio State, like the Maximus, Trustees, Provost, or National Buckeye Scholarship (up to a $54,000 value), the criteria include SAT and ACT scores for those who have been able to take them. 
  • The University of Oklahoma awards out-of-state students who are National Merit Semi-Finalists (based on the PSAT and SAT tests) a $56,000 scholarship to cover four years of tuition. 
  • The University of Alabama gives a Presidential Scholarship for students with perfect ACT/SAT scores.  It includes four years of tuition, a stipend, a research grant, and a book grant, valued at $112,000 over a four year period. 

Three to four hours on a Saturday morning could be the best financial investment a student could make. 

5.  Colleges use ACT and SAT test scores to determine your course placement. 

It is one thing to be admitted to a college; it is another to get started on desired major classes as soon as possible.  Achieving certain section scores can allow students to place out of general education requirements, saving time and money.  Ohio State, among many other schools, use ACT and SAT test scores for English and math course placement.  The University of Louisiana, for example, gives students who score a 28 or above on the ACT English a full semester credit for English 101; those who score over a 30 on the ACT math earn two full semesters of credit for Math 109 and Math 110.  Since the ACT and SAT are designed to measure how likely a student will be successful as a college freshman, taking the tests will highlight areas that students should improve so they can be successful in collegiate coursework. 

I hope you found this information helpful.  Please contact us at www.bwseducationconsulting.com with other questions you may have about the SAT and ACT. 

–Brian Stewart