That’s a question we get a lot when working with exam prep students who are early in their journeys to apply to college.
The answer isn’t totally simple, however. Let’s explore it from a few different perspectives:
For the most selective colleges, the SAT and ACT support the overall story of how academically prepared a candidate is for college. For example, consider Dartmouth College, which has an acceptance rate of just 8.7%. Dartmouth’s required application components include SAT or ACT scores, but the admissions website states that while testing is required, it isn’t the ultimate factor in evaluating an application. Test scores are considered in conjunction with students’ academic record/transcripts and recommendations.
For colleges that are less selective, SAT and ACT scores matter, but they’re taken into account alongside other criteria such as class rank, recommendations and perhaps a personal essay. At these schools, it’s safe to assume that students’ GPAs and rigorous high school curriculum are at the top of the list of things considered.
For colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT, students have greater control over how they present themselves as candidates for admission. Take the University of Puget Sound for example, which leaves the choice of whether to submit standardized test scores up to each applicant. Their stance is that students might have the academic preparation and commitment to excel in college, even if their SAT or ACT scores indicate otherwise. That said, if a student feels that their SAT or ACT score would bolster their application, it might be wise to include it in their application materials.
Generally, here are a few things to keep in mind regarding SAT and ACT scores and their importance:
It’s a good idea to visit a college’s website for details about their admissions requirements. Each college has their own methods for evaluating applicants. When in doubt, visit the admissions website to get an understanding of how they assess students’ application packages.
Check out the class academic profile, if available. Many colleges provide a snapshot of their most-recently admitted students. This is by no means a list of requirements, but can give your teen a sense of the “typical” student who attends that college. Here, you should be able to find the mean SAT and ACT score as well as other information about the individuals who make up the student body.
A holistic admissions process means other factors are weighed. Poke around a college’s admissions website, and you might find a section titled “What We’re Looking For” or something similar. Many colleges explain that admission is a holistic process, which means that all documentation a student submits is reviewed and considered when the college makes its decision. That could include standard criteria like high school curriculum (and rigor) and GPA as well as things like the essay, demonstrated leadership and recommendations.
Your teen’s SAT or ACT scores do matter if he is trying to get into college, but their weight might be impacted by the other factors a college considers in the admission process as well as each college’s selectivity. Bottom line: earning strong scores on the SAT or ACT can only help your teen. It pays to prepare!