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Expert Opinions on the College Admissions Process
by Dave Berry

SAT/ACT Importance

In my experience counseling high school seniors, I often hear the question, “Hey, how important–really–are test scores?” That’s a good question, especially in light of all the schools these days that have opted out of the mandatory test score submission arena.

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There are varying opinions about the relative importance of the SAT I and ACT. In my professional view, however, I think that colleges are loathe to admit just how important they view test scores, even the test-optional schools. Why? Well, professing too much emphasis on scores makes them look somewhat mono-dimensional and detracts from their contention that they use a “holistic methodology” (wow, cool phrase there, huh?) to give their applicants a fair-shake, broad-swath look.

Anyway, our test-prep friends over at IvyBound.net have issued an interesting statement about the importance of test scores. Here are some excerpts:

Why A Good ACT / SAT Score is more important than ever.

Most competitive colleges value standardized tests more than ever.  Over the last 25 years, more and more competitive colleges have EMPHASIZED high test scores because it gives them a way to evaluate students with disparate school records.  A small number of competitive colleges did drop SAT as a requirement over the last 25 years, but this pales in comparison to those that have affirmed merit scholarships based on SAT scores over the same period.  (Students and parents should distinguish competitive from non-competitive, where decent academic standing and an ability to pay are sufficient for acceptance.  This list of schools that do not require the SAT or ACT is heavily weighted with non-competitive colleges.)   At competitive colleges, admissions officers blatantly admit that the SAT now carries more weight as an admission criterion compared to 15 years ago.

College admissions offices compete with one another for applicants.  The most prominent survey, US NEWS, makes SAT / ACT score a huge category for ranking the schools.  Incoming GPA is not ranked in the US News survey.  This means that students with high GPAs often lose in the admissions game to students with lower GPAs but higher SAT or ACT scores.

Admissions offices also compete by offering the strongest candidates money, and the last 20 years have seen the flowering of MERIT-BASED SCHOLARSHIPS.  Prior to 1990, scholarship money was awarded only to athletic recruits and to students with high financial need.  Today, almost every competitive 4-year college awards scholarships to entice academic talent, and their assessment of “talent” is the SAT / ACT score.  Awards of $2,000 – $200,000 are based largely on SAT or ACT scores . . .

. . . Conclusion: students with high aspirations should not overlook the importance of a good SAT / ACT score. More schools should provide direct SAT coaching, because a good course can help students to 200+ point improvements, which can significantly open opportunities.  Since 92% of all competitive colleges take the best math score and combine it with the best reading score, it makes sense to plan on taking the SAT three times.  If you know you can excel on a third SAT, not trying is leaving opportunities on the shelf.

So, you can likely see that the answer to the question, “Hey, how important–really–are test scores?” is, in most cases, “Very.”  Don’t let the holistic PR front lull you to sleep. Wake up and smell numbers!

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Don’t forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

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