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5 Reasons High School Juniors Should Still Plan to Take the SAT or ACT

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What does the recent increase in test-optional colleges mean for current high school juniors and other students planning to apply to college in 2021-2022? Will these students get to skip the SAT and ACT altogether? Not necessarily.

 

Two-thirds of all four-year colleges in the U.S. are now test optional and more than 500 of these schools adopted test-optional policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to FairTest.org, which maintains lists of test-optional and test-blind colleges. The rise in test-optional colleges came as a relief to many college-bound students, as their opportunities to take the SAT and ACT was limited due to COVID-19.

 

But what does this mean for current high school juniors (the graduating high school class of 2022) and other students planning to apply to college next year? According to the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), counselors are continuing  to advise students to take college admissions tests if they can test safely. “The reality is that, as long as tests are still being offered, there’s something to be gained by students scoring well on them,” reported NACAC in its Fall 2020 Journal of College Admission.

 

Here are a few reasons why you might want to consider taking the SAT and/or ACT, even when many colleges have gone test-optional.

 

1. Some colleges might reinstate testing requirements

 

Many of the colleges on FairTest’s list of test-optional schools became test-optional temporarily to provide flexibility to students applying in 2020-2021. Some colleges have publicly stated that they will extend their test optional policies into the future, but not all. As more people get vaccinated for COVID-19, more SAT and ACT testing centers and dates will likely become more available. If so, it’s possible that some colleges will reinstate testing requirements. The landscape is still uncertain.

2. Strong test scores may help your admissions chances.

It’s important to remember that a test-optional college will consider your test scores if you submit them, along with the other parts of your application. This is different than test-blind colleges, which will not consider ACT or SAT scores at all. At test-optional colleges, your test scores could be considered the same as any other “optional” part of an application, such as an optional essay, letter of recommendation, interview, or portfolio. You may submit any of these items to showcase your strengths and help admissions officers understand who you are.

 

If your SAT or ACT scores are strong (above the average of the college’s previously admitted freshmen), submitting them to a test-optional school can only help you -- and may balance out parts of your application that are less stellar.

 

3. Average test scores at colleges are trending lower

 

Studies have shown that students who take the SAT or ACT a second time score higher than students who take the test only once. Yet, many high school seniors in the graduating class of 2021 couldn’t take the SAT or ACT multiple times because of widespread test center closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Some test prep experts think this will lead to a decline in test score averages at many colleges. For example, college advisors at CollegeVine found SAT scores for its clients were on average 60 points lower and ACT scores were three points lower for the class of 2021 than the class of 2020. This might mean that a SAT or ACT score you think is below average for a certain school might be in the ballpark this year.

 

Some counselors are advising students to submit scores even if they fall below the median of their target colleges. “Pre-COVID, when students were applying to highly-competitive, test-optional schools like Wake Forest, the University of Chicago, or Bates College, conventional wisdom was to only submit your SAT/ACT results if you possessed a score at or above the school’s median composite score,” writes counselor Dave Bergman in the College Transitions blog. But now, “if everything else in your application is strong… we recommend including your SAT or ACT score … even if it is toward the lower end (25th percentile).”

 

 

4. Standardized test scores may be required for scholarships, transfers, and special programs

 

Although some colleges will waive the test-score requirement for admissions, they might still require test scores for merit scholarships or admission to certain majors or honors programs. Some public colleges, such as University of Alabama, automatically award tuition discounts based on a combined minimum GPA and test score. Test scores might also be required if you plan to transfer colleges in the future, or for scholarships awarded by private institutions and organizations. Be sure to verify all scholarship, financial aid, and transfer requirements with your colleges before you apply.

 

 

5. SAT and ACT prep may be less stressful

 

It’s likely that there will still be many test-optional colleges next year to choose from and knowing this can reduce some of the pressure surrounding college admissions tests. If you can safely sit for the ACT or SAT and you score well, you can choose to submit your scores to enhance your application. If you are unable to take the SAT or ACT, or if you don’t do as well on the test as you hoped, you can choose not to submit your scores and focus on other parts of your application. Be sure to discuss these options – and the benefits and risks of sitting for the SAT or ACT – with your counselor and parents.

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