As a test prep tutor, I’m sometimes asked by parents and students “Do you have to take the SAT to get into college?” My response is neither yes or no. I simply ask “Do you know what you’re giving up if you don’t take the SAT?”
There are two main points to consider before you decide whether your student will take a college admissions exam or not. The first is college admissions and the second is financial aid and scholarships.
At the time I’m writing this article, most colleges require an SAT or ACT score for admission to their school. To be clear, you can choose to take either the SAT or ACT. All colleges accept scores from either exam for college admissions consideration.
Are there test-optional universities in the US? Yes. But if a student decides in junior year to opt out of taking the exams only to change her mind about the colleges she is going to to apply to in her senior year, it may be too late to prepare and get a quality score. Having to tackle an unforeseen SAT, can significantly increase students’ stress levels and make the college application process more overwhelming that it needs to be.
To reduce last minute stress in senior year, I believe that all college-bound students should take at least one of the two college admissions exams during their junior year. This will help students set realistic goals and expectations of the college admissions process to come.
Financial Aid & Scholarships
There is another disadvantage to opting out of the exams. Even at many test-optional schools, you run the risk of not receiving all of the merit-based financial aid you can qualify for.
That’s right! Even though a test-optional school will admit a student without test scores, that same school may not have adjusted its merit-based financial aid formula to accommodate those students who do not have test scores. [Click here to read a more in-depth analysis of the financial risks of not taking an SAT.]
This is a college-to-college variation, so if you’re interested in going the test-optional route, you’d do well to check in with the individual colleges to ask if they’ve made allowances for students who apply without test scores to still receive merit-based financial aid.
An additional consideration is that by not taking the SAT or ACT, you may also be opting out of scholarship money. In a recent conversation with a scholarship expert, I asked what percentage of scholarships require an SAT or ACT score as a part of the application process. He estimated that roughly 60% of scholarship applications ask for test scores.
With the average cost of a 4-year degree hovering at $135,000, you’ll need to decide if it’s worth it for your family to shut the door on potential free money.
So, do you have to take the SAT?
Technically no, but if you opt out of taking the SAT or ACT, you should at least know what you may be giving up by doing so.
That said, I believe every college-bound student should take the SAT in their junior year because I’m a firm believer in covering my bases. That was my philosophy as high school student and it helped me gain admission to some of the most prestigious universities in the country, like NYU, Boston College, USC, and Northwestern.
As a test prep tutor and creator of our online courses, I also know that higher SAT scores are possible for every student. To my mind, I think it’s far less stressful to have a student prepare for the SAT over a 2 month period and have a quality score he can be proud of than have that same student realize all too late that his options for college are more limited than he would like.
I know that taking the SAT can seem a bit daunting, but with a quality guide by your side and a solid plan of action, it doesn’t have to be a horrific, drawn out process. Plus, the SAT is a fabulous opportunity for students to begin to learn how to take ownership of their academics – a skill they will require to be successful in college.