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Last Updated On: May 12th, 2022

The pandemic threw a lot of uncertainty into the college admissions process (and just about everything else). Now that life is returning somewhat to “normal,” many current high school students are left with questions: Should I be worrying about the SAT or ACT? Is “test optional” still optional? Is there a benefit to having a test score even if I don’t need one?

Looking back at my blog from August 2021, most of my advice about whether you should take the SAT or ACT still holds true. There are, however, a few updates:

You should still definitely take the SAT or ACT if you’re applying to a school that requires the test. This list of schools, however, has gotten much smaller. Before the pandemic, students would go online and search for the relatively few top schools that didn’t require an admissions test. Now, only a small number still require it, including MIT, Georgetown, Purdue, Gallaudet, and state schools in Florida and Georgia. There are also a few schools, including Yale, where a test score is “recommended.” If something is “recommended” by a school admissions office—whether it’s making a video, writing a supplemental essay, or taking a test—you should definitely do it!

During the height of pandemic restrictions, many students simply weren’t able to take the test, but now almost every student does have access to a test site, so you should take it if the school asks for it. In addition, some scholarships still require the test, so you should take it if you have a good shot at getting one of those scholarships.

You should still probably take the SAT or ACT if you can easily obtain a competitive score. A high score certainly won’t hurt your application! And if you can score well on the test and you need to make up for low grades or other application weaknesses, you should definitely take the test. For highly competitive schools, a grade of B- or below can signal that you didn’t fully comprehend the course material. If your test scores show mastery that is not reflected by your grades, they can help your application to a test-optional school. A strong test score can also prove academic achievement if you were in a non-traditional program, such as a less structured home-school or independent study program.

What if you have a strong application without an admissions test? In that case, you might be better off focusing on the other areas of your application. At a recent presentation through Claremont McKenna College (CMC), my alma mater, Associate Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid Jennifer Sandoval-Dancs shared that since CMC went test-optional, she started looking at test scores after reviewing the rest of the student’s application file. What she found was that, most of the time, the test score basically matched the rest of the application—students with stellar grades and excellent extra-curriculars also had high test scores, while those with less impressive applications usually had lower test scores. When the test score matched the strength or weakness of the application, it rarely changed the admissions decision.

With many teenagers experiencing troubling levels of anxiety and stress, you might not want to take the SAT or ACT if it is going to greatly increase your anxiety level. College applications already cause enough stress, so it might be helpful to have one less task to worry about. Instead of focusing on the admissions test, you can focus on the other areas of your application, in this priority order:

  • Grades and academic performance
  • Strength of curriculum
  • Personal statement and essays
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Demonstrated interest (going to virtual or in-person tours and prospective student events, attending the school’s information sessions, etc.)

If you are currently a freshman or sophomore, the best plan might be to do your best in your courses and wait and see what happens with admissions tests, as most schools that went test-optional are planning to revisit their policies within the next few years.

No matter what you decide about admissions testing, there is a school or program out there that’s a great fit for you and can help you reach your academic and career goals. With test scores being mostly optional, you now have more choice and flexibility in how to meet those goals.

Photo by Tim Alex on Unsplash

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