Learn about test-optional colleges and discover if the SAT and ACT still matter to you
If you’ve been paying attention to college admissions news over the last couple of years, you know the SAT and ACT have been through the wringer. And it hasn’t been easy for students, either.
The increase of test-optional colleges has been confusing for high school students who are trying to prepare for their college applications.
It’s good that many colleges have adopted temporary test-optional policies in the wake of COVID-19. After all, many students in highly populated areas haven’t had access to the SAT and ACT since early 2020.
But a lot of those test-optional policies end with this year’s senior class. So where does that leave junior, sophomores, and freshmen?
If you’re planning to start college in the fall of 2023 or beyond, you have to decide how you want to navigate the SAT and ACT. Should you ignore them? Or should you seriously prepare?
As a college planning consultant, I’m working with a lot of students who are in your shoes. I know exactly what questions are on your mind.
Keep reading to find answers to all your biggest SAT and ACT concerns. Plus, I’ll share a few valuable SAT prep and ACT prep tips.
Will colleges require the SAT and ACT in the future?
In the last couple of years, a good number of colleges have gone permanently test-optional. For example, you won’t ever need to submit SAT or ACT scores to Jacksonville University or Nova Southeastern University.
On the other hand, temporary test-optional colleges are functioning on a year-by-year basis, meaning they could go either way in the future. While it’s hard to predict exactly what each school will do, here are my two cents on the matter.
Colleges like using SAT and ACT scores for a number of reasons. Applicants’ scores offer colleges further insight into their ability levels. Colleges want to enroll students who will succeed and be able to graduate. SAT and ACT scores provide a way to predict college success.
And don’t forget, many colleges receive a large number of applicants—sometimes in the tens of thousands. So using minimum SAT and ACT scores as cut-offs helps reduce the number of applications that have to be reviewed.
Here’s another reason why colleges might be motivated to keep their SAT and ACT requirements—it will improve their rankings and prestige.
Let’s look at the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, in particular. Their ranking system includes a number of factors, including the SAT and ACT scores of each school’s accepted students.
Universities that don’t receive SAT and ACT scores from over half of their accepted students will actually get docked ranking points. And test-blind schools have an even bigger rankings disadvantage.
In a world where people still care a lot about rankings, the fear of slipping down the rating scale might motivate many colleges to keep collecting SAT and ACT scores from their applicants.
Is taking the SAT and ACT beneficial to me?
Students are constantly asking me this question. “If I want to apply to test-optional colleges, should I still take the SAT and ACT?” Here’s how I like to respond.
First, I tell my students to pay close attention to the fine print of test-optional colleges. Some may require test scores from applicants whose GPA or class rank are below certain cut-off points. This is where submitting good SAT or ACT scores can make up for less-than-ideal grades.
Also, some test-optional colleges might want to use SAT and ACT scores for class placement purposes—making sure to put new freshmen into appropriate Math and English classes for their ability level.
And other test-optional colleges will ask you for additional application materials if you don’t submit SAT or ACT scores—such as extra recommendation letters or essays. Just be aware of how each college handles its test-optional policy.
Second, I like to remind my students that colleges want as much information about you as possible.
Imagine you have the same GPA and profile as another applicant, but there’s only room for one of you at a specific college. They need more information to distinguish you and make their decision—that’s where good SAT or ACT scores can increase your chances of getting accepted.
And third, I tell my students that many test-optional colleges look at SAT and ACT scores when awarding merit scholarships. So choosing not to submit test scores may put you at a financial disadvantage.
Overall, I believe the benefits of taking the SAT and ACT outweigh the disadvantages, and I encourage my students to do so.
What will happen if I don’t plan to take the SAT or ACT?
Here’s what I’m afraid of. If you’re a high school student and you don’t prepare for the SAT or ACT, you might get into a sticky situation when you apply to colleges. You might all of a sudden have to take a test with no preparation—leaving you with less than stellar scores.
From my point of view, it’s better to prepare now and find out you don’t need the SAT and ACT than to not prepare and find yourself completely out of luck later on.
After all, submitting SAT and ACT scores to test-optional colleges still works in your favor. In most cases they’ll improve your admissions odds, rather than decrease them.
If you have your heart set on attending a selective school, you have to work hard to give yourself every possible admissions advantage. Doing well on the SAT and ACT is one of the many ways you can make yourself a competitive applicant.
And here’s another fact to consider—testing is a part of life, so it’ll be useful for you to practice this skill.
If you want to go to graduate school, you’ll probably have to take one of many standardized tests to get admitted to a good program. For instance, aspiring medical students have to take the MCAT and hopeful law students will take the LSAT.
Plus, many professions require standardized exams for licensure—accountants, psychologists, and nurses are just a few.
So while standardized tests may be odious, you’re better off getting used to them now than waiting until the stakes are even higher. The last thing you want is to be barred from your dream career because you have underdeveloped testing skills.
How can I get a good score on the SAT and ACT?
I love it when my students arrive at this question because it shows they’re already on a path toward admissions success. Although I go into more detail in a previous blog, here is a brief recap of my best SAT prep and ACT prep tips.
- Take the PSAT in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. This will help you get used to the format of the SAT and ACT, plus give you insight on which areas you need to improve the most.
- Plan to take the SAT or ACT more than once. The minimum amount of times I recommend is once while you’re a junior and once early on in your senior year.
- Be intentional in your SAT and ACT prep. There are many different ways you can study for these exams—from online courses to prep books to private tutoring. Find the option that works best for you and be self-disciplined in your preparation.
And if you want someone to help keep you on track—for both test prep and competitive college admissions in general—consider working with a college planning consultant. We can help take the stress and uncertainty out of the admissions process while improving your odds of getting accepted to your dream school!
Final thoughts about the future of the SAT and ACT
Whether admissions testing is right or wrong, I don’t believe it’s going anywhere soon. It’s a reality we have to deal with, and I sincerely hope you’ll plan accordingly. I encourage you to prepare for the SAT or ACT so you can be the most competitive applicant possible.
I want to hear from you! What other burning SAT and ACT questions do you have? What test prep approach are you planning to take? Please send a question using the email feature here.
Dr. Tucker established her own consulting business after a long, successful career working in higher education. Besides being an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), she is also trained as a Life and Career Coach through the Institute for Life Coach Training. She toured hundreds of colleges, networked with admissions reps from across the country, and spoken at national conferences about student success and college retention. Read more about her here.