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How We're Thinking About Submitting SAT and/or ACT Scores

With the recent announcements from both Dartmouth and Yale that they would return to a policy of requiring SAT or ACT test scores from applicants beginning this fall, there has been an understandable amount of discussion (and concern!) about whether this is a growing trend or just policy decisions unique to these two schools.

We’ve received a lot of questions from parents over the last two weeks asking if they should expect other schools to return to a “test scores required” policy. Our honest answer: We don’t know (and nobody outside of the college administrations does either)! Our sense is that we will see some schools make this move (especially smaller private schools) but that most will remain test optional.


Given this, how should we be thinking about the test now?


First, we remain convinced that all students planning to apply to college should take an official version of either the SAT or ACT (or both). This view has not changed over the last number of years. Having an official score on the record keeps options open and provides us data for how to think about taking the test(s) additional times and whether to send scores to test optional schools.


Now, the tricky part – how to determine whether to send your scores to the test optional colleges on your list. We think there are three key data points to consider:


1)    How does your (best) score compare to the 25-75% range of those accepted to the college in the prior class? This 25-75% range is relatively easy to discover. I like using . If your score falls in the upper part of the range or even above the range, the answer is straightforward – send your scores! For example, if the 25-75% range for one of your colleges is 1220 – 1390 and you’ve scored a 1370 – send!


2)    How does your (best) score compare to the average scores of your school and school district? In findings released by Dartmouth to explain why they decided to return to a test score required policy, the college made an interesting point. They noted that in reviewing students who were not admitted to the college, many came from low income or minority populations and had scores below Dartmouth’s 25-75% range (1440-1560). As a result, these students largely chose not to submit scores. However, Dartmouth found that many of these students still had scores that were far better than the average from their school districts, and that had they (Dartmouth) had this data, they may have thought differently about whether to accept these students.


Given that colleges now appear to be viewing test scores in relation to the school district averages, we recommend taking this into consideration. Typically, your school district’s average SAT/ACT scores can be found with a quick google search. In a scenario where your scores are towards the bottom of the college 25-75% range (or even slightly below) but above your school district’s average, we’d encourage you to strongly consider sending those scores! (For my Montgomery County, MD students – just google the name of your high school and “at a glance” and you will be able to pull up a form that includes information about your high school’s average scores, MCPS average scores, and nationwide average scores.)


3)    How “test preferred” does your college appear to be? It’s become clear over the last year that while many colleges say they are test optional, they would generally prefer to see your test scores. The easiest way to determine whether your colleges are “test preferred” is to use the common data set for each school. Just google the name of the college and “common data set.” Then check out section C and you should see a box showing the percentage of enrolled freshman who submitted SAT or ACT scores (Note: not all schools report this data, but most do). If you see a high percentage (I’d say greater than 50%), you can safely assume the school is “test preferred.” If this is the case, and you are still on the fence about sending scores after reading 1 and 2, we’d recommend submitting scores.


It's true - sometimes the decision on whether to send scores makes the “test optional” nature of schools more stressful than the “test score required” schools. Hopefully the above steps help make this decision more straightforward!


As always, feel free to schedule a consultation call with us to discuss how we might work together to navigate the college admissions process:

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