How Are Colleges Using SAT/ACT Scores in Today’s Admissions Environment?

By Huntington Learning Center

If you have a high school student starting to think about college right now, you probably have questions about the SAT and ACT. With many colleges and universities still test optional and others test flexible or test blind, what to do is confusing for parents and students.  

Right now, policies differ depending on the college or university, and it’s best for you to check with the schools where your student plans to apply for the most up-to-date information. You can expect standardized testing policies to fall into one of these categories:  

  • Test optional – This leaves the decision up to the student on whether to send in SAT/ACT scores. Colleges that are test optional do not require, but usually encourage, students to submit test scores for admission 
  • Test blind – Test blind means that a college will not consider SAT/ACT scores when making admission decisions. Colleges with this policy will not look at these scores even if provided by the applicant. 
  • Test flexible – Test flexible means that a college requires test scores, but not necessarily SAT/ACT scores. They might instead request students to choose from SAT or ACT scores, an International Baccalaureate Diploma, three AP exam scores or three higher-level IB exam scores (if not an IB diploma candidate). 
  • A modified policy – Again, each college and university is different, so checking out specific policies is essential. Some might be test blind but use test scores for course placement after enrolled. Some might be test optional but still imply that self-reporting test scores is important for scholarships, financial aid programs and academic placement.  

Here’s how colleges are using SAT/ACT scores in today’s admissions environment:  

  • To gain insight into a student’s academic preparation – Most institutions embrace a holistic review process in which they consider multiple factors in making admission decisions, but the bottom line is that academics still matter most. Colleges want proof of a student’s academic preparation and excellence, and the SAT/ACT is another objective measure of this.  
  • To advise on future course placement – Many colleges and universities encourage applicants to submit SAT/ACT scores for placement in some courses—even if their general university policy is test optional. 
  • For direct admission into certain majors – For certain majors, it’s possible to gain direct admission into a school/department/program with a solid academic record that includes SAT/ACT scores. This is common for colleges of business, for example. 
  • For scholarship consideration - Some colleges and universities offer automatic scholarships based on students’ GPA and SAT/ACT scores, even if the SAT/ACT are not required for admission. Others use test scores to consider students for a range of other merit-based scholarships.  

Last but not least, it’s a good idea to investigate the standardized testing reporting policies of the colleges on your child’s target list. Superscoring is when a college automatically takes the highest section scores across all test administrations to combine them into one, higher total score. Score choice is when students are given some control over which SAT/ACT scores they report to a college.  

While score choice benefits students in certain ways, it’s important to read the fine print, so to speak. Some colleges require that applicants submit all test scores, while others recommend but do not require this. Others are more flexible and will accept whatever scores a student decides to submit. So, if your child’s dream college requires SAT/ACT scores and requires a complete testing record, it would be wise for your student to prepare for the exam to earn the best possible score (and not just take the exam for practice a couple of times before studying).  

If your student needs help preparing for the SAT or ACT and you want guidance on how to approach this process strategically based on your student’s goals, call Huntington at 1-800 CAN LEARN. We’ll help your student develop a detailed study schedule based on their strengths and weaknesses so they can perform their very best and strengthen their college application!