High school contains endless clamoring for your effort and attention: midterms, musicals, model UN, friends, football, finals, projects, papers, part-time jobs, championships, chores, community service… and, oh yeah, eating and sleeping sometimes.Much as a mountain climber ditches anything non-essential in order to summit the peak with a lighter load, you might be asking yourself: must I take the ACT?
High school is indeed a mighty mountain to climb and students often want to sacrifice standardized testing, thinking it will be easier not to take the exam and/or it’s not that important.
A common line of thinking.
But an incorrect line of reasoning.
Rather than thinking about how nice it would be to skip testing, consider it another way:
What might you miss out on if you don’t take the ACT and how much harder will it be for you in the long run?
A 2018 study released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling reveals that students who didn’t submit test scores were admitted at lower rates and were less likely to receive financial awards than those who submitted.
With the knowledge that every student and their journey is different, it might appear counterintuitive to claim there are things every student should do when it comes to college admissions.
But you really should take the ACT if you want to:
- Minimize your stress and uncertainty senior year
- Keep your college options open
- Expand your application materials to increase your chances of getting accepted
- Qualify for certain programs within a school
- Set yourself up to earn scholarships and merit aid
This article is designed to help you understand how the ACT might help you ultimately achieve your dreams for the future.
Testing isn’t easy.
But it might just be worth it.
Do I Really Have To Take The ACT?
We get it. Standardized testing has been taking a beating in national media coverage.
It’s an imperfect system at the center of much criticism and controversy.
The arguments are deeply important and profoundly complicated.
But whatever your socioeconomic, philosophical, or pedagogical perspectives, the fact is, the tests still exist.
Whether you agree with the critics or side with College Board and ACT, Inc., as long as there is no new measurement tool to help colleges make admissions determinations, we’re going to have to muddle through the status-quo for now.
Would you prefer to make the most of the not-so-fun test and turn it into an advantage other students are overlooking, leaving room for you to reap more benefits?
Or would you rather complain about the system and squander your opportunities?
Which way gets you closer to your goals?
You can always decide later whether to submit your scores - or test again to raise your score - but without any scores at all, you have more limited options and you’ll have a harder time setting realistic expectations for your entire college admissions process.
At the time of writing this, all schools that accept test scores will accept either the ACT or SAT.
So if you simply prefer the SAT, then, by all means, put your time and effort into studying and acing the SAT instead. You don’t need both.
If you would like to know how they’re different, watch this video on the ACT vs. the SAT to decide which one is right for you.
How The ACT Impacts College Admissions
Colleges fall into one of four categories when it comes to standardized college entrance exams:
- Schools that require test scores as part of their admissions application process
- Schools that are test-optional - meaning test scores will be considered if the student chooses to submit them
- Schools that are test-flexible - meaning they want some kind of standardized test score, but it can be AP or IB or something besides the ACT or SAT
- Schools that are test-blind - meaning test scores will not be reviewed
If your hoped-for schools are in the first category, you obviously need to test. In the second and third categories, the choice is yours (but read below to have a clear picture of what can happen if you don’t test). If you are only applying to test-blind schools, it’s possible you won’t need to test.
… However, if that’s the case, do consider this possible scenario (we’ve seen it happen):
You find a perfect-fit school in the fall or winter of your senior year that wasn’t on your list before. What if they require testing?
Preparing for a myriad of possibilities allows you to come closer to the college outcomes you most desire.
For all college-bound students, you will be best served by achieving test scores you’re proud of by the end of your junior year.
Don’t add stress to your senior year with a completely avoidable scramble to get an ACT score on the books last-minute.
Also, as you’re looking at admissions data, don’t be intimidated by the average test scores of a school’s current student body.
You can score lower than that and still possibly get admitted.
Plus, test scores are only one piece of the admissions pie.
They don’t define you.
They simply offer decision-makers a more filled-out picture. Putting as much information as possible into your application allows each element to have less weight. Not including test scores puts more pressure on other aspects of your college applications.
Test-Optional & Test-Flexible Policies
This murky middle ground of colleges’ stances on entrance exams is not what it seems on the surface.
Due to the pandemic and problems around in-person testing, many schools assumed temporary or permanent testing policies that supposedly allow for students not to be punished if they don’t have test scores.
That part makes sense.
Currently, upwards of 1,800 schools don’t require ACT or SAT scores and more are likely to join that trend.
However, with nothing stepping in to take the place of standardized testing, how are these decisions really impacting students?
For a deeper dive into the issues, you can read this article on whether or not to submit your score to test-optional schools, but here are the highlights:
Test-optional policies really only help the school, not the student.
With testing not required, suddenly way more students applied to many of the most exclusive schools in the country. With larger-than-normal application pools, students became even less likely to get accepted. Schools are happy because they look more desirable with a lower acceptance rate. But most students who didn’t submit scores didn’t get admitted, so it didn’t make the system more fair or inclusive. Schools win, students lose. The closest the system comes to “fair” is test-blind colleges, not test-optional. You’re still competing against high ACT and SAT scores, but now, admissions officers can only guess how you measure up (and they might guess lower than the truth shows).
A school can be test-optional but still have certain important testing requirements for:
Financial awards. You could be admitted to your dream school, then find out later that they base merit aid on ACT or SAT scores. You’ve missed out on thousands of free tuition dollars all because you didn’t test.
Specific programs of study. For example, nursing or engineering degrees can sometimes require test scores for entry, even if the university at large is test-optional.
International or home-schooled students. With less traditional previous education, the college might require verification of your skills and learning level.
That money thing is a big one. Let’s take a closer look at it.
How The ACT Impacts Merit Aid And Scholarships
You might be surprised to learn that even average scores can earn you good tuition money.
You don’t need a perfect score.
You just need to know where to look for tuition money to leverage your ACT score into some serious dough.
Download the free Insider’s Guide to the ACT & SAT for more info (and essential testing tips) or enroll in our Cash for College course to explore the deeper ins & outs of getting more $$$ for your education.
Additionally, be aware that many schools don’t reveal their merit aid policies on their admissions pages.
Check out the financial aid pages on the website of any schools on your college list to see if scores are required and if they offer any sense of the range that’s awarded.
If you want to cover your bases, best to up your ACT game - even with a simple Quick Prep ACT course that can help raise your score in as little as four hours.
If You’re Scared To Take The ACT
Don’t skimp on the places that can help you succeed simply because you’re afraid of failing.
Maybe all you need is a little more understanding of what a good score is for the ACT to see how close you are to it.
Or maybe just be strategic about your time and remember:
You can supplement your application with the other wonderful things you have to offer a school. The ACT score isn’t a guarantee of anything good or bad. It’s just a tool to help see where you’re at in your education.
You can raise your score by taking ACT practice tests or digging into an online ACT prep course. Sometimes a couple of points difference can earn you thousands of dollars more in merit aid - and admittance to a perfect-fit school.
If you want to talk more about this or you have questions, reach out to the Higher Scores team. We’re here to help make things easier for you.