There is a very long list of to dos that come with the college admissions process here in the US.
As a student, you're called upon to perform well academically in school, be involved in myriad extracurricular activities, engage in compelling volunteer work, craft incredible personal statement essays, win awards and recognition you can weave into your resume, have solid relationships with teachers who can write recommendations, and get a great score on a college admissions exam.
And those are just the big ticket items you should be pursuing. We didn't even dip our toes into the task list of forms to complete and items to submit when it comes time to actually apply.
With so much on, it might be tempting to lighten your workload somehow. And the college admissions tests are often in the crosshairs.
Do you really have to take the SAT?
While I do believe in being strategic about how you use your time, it's important to understand what you might be giving up by not taking an SAT as a part of your college admissions process.
How the SAT Impacts College Admissions
When it comes to testing, colleges fall into one of three categories. They either:
- require an exam in order to be considered for admission,
- are test optional which means tests will be considered if submitted, or
- are test blind which means tests aren't reviewed.
At the time I’m writing this article, colleges that require college admissions exams or are test optional leave the choice of which test to take up to you. Therefore, you can choose to take either the SAT or ACT - whichever one is a better fit for you.
For more on how to decide which test to take, watch this video: Should you take the ACT or SAT?
All colleges that require or accept scores will accept either the ACT or SAT.
Clearly, if a test score is required, you need to test. If you're only applying to test blind schools, you could pass on testing.
But, if you're on the fence or leaning towards not testing, there's something you should consider.
If you choose to add schools you're excited about to your college list late in the game - say, in early fall of your senior year - it may be too late to prepare and get a quality score if you don't already have one. Having to tackle an unforeseen SAT in a short time frame can significantly increase students’ stress levels and make the college admissions process more overwhelming that it needs to be.
To reduce last minute stress in senior year, I recommend that all college-bound students should have test scores they're proud of by the end of their junior year. This helps you set a college list with realistic expectations and minimize stress and uncertainty during the college admissions process to come.
Test Optional Colleges and the SAT
But what about test optional schools? Is there a reason a student might want to take the SAT if they're exclusively applying to test optional schools?
For me, the answer is a clear yes because the grey area that these colleges give by putting the choice in your hands is a bit disingenuous in two ways.
First, test optional colleges do consider scores for admissions if you submit them. I'm a cover my bases kind of gal, so I like having more data on hand to make my case for admission. Choosing to take the SAT is a way to say to a college that you go above and beyond the requirements - an attractive quality in a prospective student.
Secondly, many test optional colleges are test optional for their admissions policies only. The option does not extend to their merit aid and scholarship programs. So, if you want aid, you may need to submit your scores to qualify.
For example, I had a student who earned a full ride to his dream school - test optional Wake Forest - due in large part to his improved test score.
Sadly, most colleges that do require a test score in order to qualify for aid don't share this information on the admissions pages. You'll need to dig into the financial aid pages on their website to learn how your prospective college handles this.
Merit Aid and Scholarships
When it comes to testing, it's important to set up your score goals early. Many students stop looking at whether or not they can get into school. They don't head to the financial aid information at their favorite colleges to see the SAT scores they'll need to earn four-, five-, or six-figure awards.
Many students simply think they won't qualify.
But there is so much free tuition available to students if you know where to look. I cover this briefly in my free eBook, The Insider's Guide to the ACT & SAT, and do a deeper dive in the Cash for College workshop included in each of my online SAT prep classes. To my mind, if you're going to prepare, you should know how to earn a return on your investment.
If you want to win scholarships, having an SAT score is one way to ensure you won't miss out on those opportunities.
The time and resources that you have to commit to traditional SAT prep can seem prohibitive. But it doesn't have to be overwhelming.
Whether you choose to leverage free SAT resources like my Insider's Guide to the ACT & SAT, free SAT practice tests that you can take, or an online SAT prep courses to boost your scores sky high, there are many ways to get to the SAT scores you want.
A little bit of effort on the SAT now can help you get into the colleges you're most excited about and earn tuition dollars to boot. Good luck on your journey. And, if you have a question, don't hesitate to ask it here.