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Test-Optional: Do I Need to Take the ACT or SAT?

5 min readโ€ขaugust 24, 2021

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College Processย ๐Ÿซ

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Do I Need to Take the ACT or SAT? How Important is the ACT or SAT?โš–๏ธ

The idea of your college admissions process riding on one exam is daunting ๐Ÿ˜จ The good news is that the SAT or ACT will not make or break your college entrance, though it can certainly help! College admissions is a holistic process, which means that components like your GPA, essays, and extracurriculars will be taken into account by admission officers.ย 
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Image Courtesy of Unsplash.

Pro Tip: If you're feeling overwhelmed by studying for exams and working on college applications, check out this page on how to create self-care routines and take care of your mental health.

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Shifting to Test-Optional ๐ŸŒŸ

In recent years, many colleges have gone test-optional. As the name implies, test-optional allows applicants to waive their submission of the SAT or ACT. Make sure to do research on your institution of choice because not all institutions are test-optional. The Coronavirus led to SAT testing centers shutting down; therefore, many students could not take the SAT or ACT for the 2021 application season. Going test-optional helped many applicants to get into their school of choice without the stress of testing. This helped highlight GPA and extracurriculars over college admissions testing.
However, those who did not submit their scores had a lesser chance of getting in. For example, Georgetown University declared they were test-optional, but 93% of admitted applicants submitted test scores. With more students applying to top institutions, many schools became more competitive because college became more accessible. For example, New York Universityโ€™s acceptance rate dropped from roughly 22% to 15%.ย 
Schools will likely continue to keep college admissions tests optional. Many institutions value inclusivity and understand that lower-income minority students, on average, have less access to test prep. Therefore, many institutions have already announced that they will keep admissions test-optional even after the pandemic.ย 
Some schools that will stay test-optional in Fall 2022:
  • Brown University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Harvard University
  • Yale Universityย 

Why should I take the SAT or ACT despite test-optional? ๐Ÿคท

If you decided to take either one or both, make sure to add it to your college application checklist!

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Scholarships ๐Ÿค‘

There are over 2 billion dollars in scholarships associated with the SAT and ACT alone! Test scores may not be necessary for entrance to an institution; however, they can help pay for the hefty tuition. Many institutions grant merit scholarships to students with a certain GPA and test score. Essentially, if you meet the GPA and score requirement, you can earn thousands of dollars towards your education. For example, the University of Arizona will award a $20,000 scholarship per year for students with a 3.5 GPA, and 1420 SAT score. If you are interested in merit scholarships, research your institution of choice and see if you can meet the criteria.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-YSKD4Y75b6LA.jpg?alt=media&token=2021039d-0aae-4cc7-8361-ccf58befa25a

Image Courtesy of The Advocate

Another great example of an amazing opportunity that college admissions testing provides is the National Merit Scholarship Program. This corporation awards up to $33 million in scholarships in the United States. Students around the country are awarded varying amounts based on their test scores. Students must score in the top 1% of test-takers on the PSAT in your state to be selected for the application. You have the opportunity to take the PSAT your freshman, sophomore, and junior year, but only your junior year test is considered the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). The amount of scholarship from National Merit can vary from a small amount to a full ride.ย 
Additionally, public institutions are more likely to provide more scholarships than private schools. For example, the University of Ohio provides full scholarships, while Loyola University, a private college, only provides $2,000.ย 
Taking the PSAT (aka NMSQT), SAT, or ACT can definitely help to pay for your dream college!

Benefits of Submitting Test Scores on Your Application โœ…

Test scores can be beneficial to your college admission application. The SAT and ACT were designed to analyze the competency of a student. Test scores are used to analyze how well students will do in college based on their English, reading, math, and science skills. Although test scores are not the sole indicator of success in college, they can show admissions officers that you are ready for the collegiate course load. Therefore, taking the SAT canโ€™t hurt; in fact, it can help a lot!ย 
The college admissions process is holistic. Like any academic area, the SAT and ACT take hard work, and admission officers can see that even with test-optional policies. So, if an admission officer sees that your extracurriculars were lacking, a high SAT or ACT score can show that you really applied yourself in a different area.
ย 

Who shouldnโ€™t take the SAT or ACT? ๐Ÿ™…โ€โ™€๏ธ

Taking Academics into Consideration ๐Ÿค”

Submitting SAT or ACT scores may not be for everyone. Test-optional can be very beneficial for those whose test scores do not line up with high academic performance.ย 
When deciding whether or not to go test-optional, make sure to compare your relative academic performance. If you are academically comparable to applicants who submit scores, test-optional may be a good choice. Studies show that individuals that are lower-income, minorities, and/or disabled often go test-optional. This is most likely due to limited access to resources. Therefore, test-optional is an amazing way to make the college admissions process more equitable; those who are not good test takers but are qualified otherwise will not be hindered in the admissions process.ย 

Performance ๐ŸŽญ

Admission officers cannot unsee what you submit, and they cannot see what you do not submit. Therefore, when considering going test-optional, evaluate if your SAT or ACT will accurately represent the type of student you are. Ask yourself the following:
  • Will this score not accurately represent me as a student?
  • Will this score hinder my application?
  • Is my SAT or ACT score significantly below the median score of the school Iโ€™m applying to?
  • Are my academics strong enough to stand alone?
If you answered yes to any of the following, it might be worth going test-optional. Although score-submitters have a higher acceptance rate (from the 2021 cycle), institutions are trying their best to make test-optional acceptance rates 50-50 with those who submit. So donโ€™t feel that going test-optional will hinder your application process. If you feel your application will be better without test scores, go for it!

Test Prep Resources ๐Ÿ’ก

If the SAT or ACT feels overwhelming, you are the right place to start! Many corporations have invested in making these tests more accessible to those who cannot pay for test prep!
Here are some useful resources to increase your score:
  • Fiveable has created free SAT and ACT resources!
  • Khan Academy has partnered with College Board to provide videos, practice tests, and content for test prep.
  • The College Board has released past SAT exams. These are the most accurate representations of what the exam will be like!ย 
  • The ACT has also released past ACT tests; they are most accurate to the real thing. Find the practice book here!

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