It was great to have the opportunity to share some thoughts on why the SAT and ACT are still very beneficial for students to take. Hope you enjoy the piece.
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.
What does Test Optional mean?
A college that is “test optional” will still consider SAT and ACT test scores as part of your application, but does not require that you submit them. Schools that call themselves test optional still require many students to submit scores. Check with the school to see if you may actually need test scores for these situations:
- Scholarship consideration
- Transfer students
- International students
- In-state tuition
- Homeschooled students
- High school with unconventional grading
The easiest way to find these details is to call the admissions office directly. There are only a handful of colleges that are “test blind,” meaning they do not review test scores at all.
Given the hardships with Covid-19, what other things may be optional with college admissions in 2020?
About the only uniformly required application component for 2020 is a high school transcript. Many components that are typically required are optional for 2020. The specifics vary by school, but here are some commonly waived requirements:
- Grades for your classes, particularly if your school did not grade in the Spring of 2020.
- Letters of recommendation
- College essays
- Extracurricular activities
- Additional test scores (AP, IB, SAT Subject tests)
- College visits and interviews
- TOEFL for international applicants
- Portfolios and other supplemental work
Since so many colleges are flexible with their admissions requirements, will it be easier to get in this year?
No. In my phone calls with college representatives across the country, university officials anticipate that admissions will be just as competitive if not more competitive than in past years. The overall trend, particularly among selective schools, is to keep lowering the acceptance rate. In 2006, for top ten schools, the acceptance rate was 16.0%. Just 12 years later in 2018, the acceptance rate among top 10 schools was only 6.4%.
Given how competitive admissions and scholarships have become, it is imperative that you provide as much information as possible about your academic and extracurricular qualifications in your application. The more competitive the school, the less likely something that is considered “optional” actually will be so.
Which students should submit test scores to test optional schools and which students should not bother?
- If your ACT or SAT test scores are at least at the 25th percentile for admitted students, go ahead and submit them.
Approximately 80% of students who apply to test optional schools still submit their scores. Colleges want as much information as they can have about your academic preparedness, so include your scores if they meet this threshold.
- If your ACT or SAT scores are less than the 25th percentile for admitted students, do not submit them unless you need them for a scholarship or other requirement.
- If you have not been able to take an ACT or SAT because of health and safety concerns related to Covid-19, then do not worry about submitting your scores. Be prepared to elaborate on why you were unable to take the ACT or SAT in your application.
The bottom line—even though many schools are test optional, to have the most competitive application, solid test scores are a major plus.
With so much in the news about changes to college testing and admissions, I have heard the same questions from many clients. I wanted to pass along the very latest and best information that I have about the SAT, ACT, and test optional policies.
How have the ACT and SAT changed their upcoming dates?
• ACT just announced that they will have test dates on June 13th and July 18th. If there is a need to move the test date because of local health conditions, the June test would be moved to June 20th and the July test would be moved to July 25th. Despite much speculation that the summer ACT tests would be cancelled, they are on track to go ahead.
• SAT announced that they are cancelling the upcoming June SAT date, but will have a total of 5 national test dates for the fall with sufficient capacity to test all students who wish to do so. There will be an SAT each month starting in August. Additionally, the in-school SAT that was cancelled in the spring will be offered in the fall.
What if the country is still locked down in the fall and it is unsafe to take the SAT and ACT in person?
• Both SAT and ACT will make online, at-home versions of their tests available this fall should it be necessary. At-home tests have already been made for the GRE, GMAT, SSAT, LSAT, and AP exams. Should they make the online tests available, I believe they would simply keep the test as it is in its current format, but have virtual proctoring, test session recording through a computer’s camera, and browser lockdown to prevent cheating. More details about the precise format of the online tests will be forthcoming.
I have heard that many colleges are going “test optional,” and that my child now has the option to not submit SAT and ACT scores. Does this mean I don’t need to have my child take the SAT and ACT?
• “Test optional” does not mean “test blind”—if you can take the ACT and SAT to improve your application, it is definitely in your interest to do so even for test optional schools. Only 21% of all the 5,300 U.S. colleges/universities are test optional, and only 10% of the top 20 nationally-ranked universities (U.S. News & World Report ranking) are test optional.
• Only two schools in the United States, Hampshire College and Northern Illinois University are test-blind—they will not consider ACT and SAT test scores in any way. All other colleges in the country will consider test scores when making admissions decisions.
• The University of Chicago, the most highly-ranked test optional University, actually saw its admissions rate decline to 6% and its average SAT scores improve after going test optional. Their admissions website encourages “students to take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, and to share your scores with us if you think that they are reflective of your ability and potential.” Only about 10-15% of University of Chicago applicants choose to not submit their test scores. https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/apply/first-year-applicants
• For the University of California system, temporarily being test optional this year “does not lower the bar for admission, but accommodates the real barriers students have faced as tests have been cancelled and classes have moved to Pass/No Pass grading. Admissions to UC campuses is highly sought after and will continue to be just as competitive.” Submitting test scores can support students’ “statewide UC eligibility, application for certain scholarships, and help them fulfill some University graduation requirements.” https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/response-covid-19.html
• If you are able to take the SAT and ACT, do so early and often.
o Grades may hold less weight in admissions decisions than in previous years since many high schools are instituting “pass/fail” or no grading for the 2020 spring semester.
o Students who would traditionally have impressive extracurricular accomplishments from the spring and summer will not be able to showcase their talents as they normally would.
o Students may be unable to make college visits to demonstrate interest in schools, and do in-person interviews.
o Accurate letters of recommendation may be more difficult to obtain since letter writers may not have the same level of personal contact with students that they normally would.
o As always, the more objective information you can provide to a college about your solid academic qualifications, the better your chances of admission. Taking the SAT and ACT is one of the easiest ways to make this happen.