How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

ACT/SAT Prep

Our counselors answered:

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

Alan Duesterhaus
CollegeFit

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

It depends on the college or university. As a general rule the larger the institution the more weight is given to the SAT/ACT (as well as GPA). A smaller institution will typically focus on a student's activities, essay, and maybe an interview. Most colleges and universities will outline what they evaluate in their decision making process. So you should be able to get a sense as to the importance they place on standardized test scores. If you are concerned that your scores don't reflect your ability and/or potential look for colleges that make submission of standardized test scores optional.

Jolyn Brand
Owner & CEO Brand College Consulting

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

The degree to which standardized test scores are important varies with the college or university. If there is any overall trend, it is that the scores are declining in importance and are looked at as one piece of the pie. There are many colleges which are SAT/ACT optional, and these schools have decided that they get a very accurate picture of the candidate using the high school transcript, essays and recommendations. I have on occasion steered families toward SAT/ACT optional colleges when the student is not a solid test-taker. In contrast, I have recommended that some students submit their scores even when they're not required because they portray the student in a favorable light. Another item worth mentioning is the ability to test well on subject tests. This also can look very good for a candidate, and there are plenty of candidates out there who feel far more comfortable with this type of test. NYU, for example, recently instituted a change and will allow three SAT Subject Tests in lieu of the SAT or ACT.

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

Every school has their own scale of priorities, some public, some unknown. Just do the beat you can, and don't only apply to colleges that are a reach based on past numbers.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

The importance of standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application will differ from one school to another. Colleges and universities want to admit students who will be able to work successfully in the academic environments of those institutions and who will contribute positively to the social and extracurricular culture of the institutions. Schools are typically looking, therefore, for students who have worked successfully in challenging high school courses. They are also interested in how a student has contributed to his school and community in the areas of sports, music, student government, community service, or other extracurricular areas. When essays are required, it is hoped that they will reveal more about the student, as a person - his/her values, interests, and aspirations, aside from the data and scores which appear in other parts of the application. Of course, the levels of expectation in all of these areas will vary, depending on the selectivity of the institution. Standardized test scores are one more piece of the puzzle. They are required by some schools who see them as an indication of future academic potential. Following are some of the ways in which schools may view standardized testing. - Some schools have decided not to require the SAT or ACT for admission from either domestic or international students because they feel that the tests are culturally biased and not representative of a student's potential for successful college performance. - Some schools require the SAT or ACT of domestic, but not of international students, instead requiring a test of English-language proficiency, such as the TOEFL or IELTS (See more below). - Some schools require the SAT or ACT of all applicants, but have a different range of expectation for non-native English speakers than for native English speakers. These schools will often have programs established to help non-native English speakers to make a satisfactory language adjustment once they have been admitted to the college. - Some schools require the SAT or ACT of all applicants and make very little distinction between the range of expected scores for native English speakers and non-native English speakers, feeling that a student needs to have a certain level of English proficiency in order to work successfully at those institutions. - Most schools ask international students who have not been educated in English-language high school programs for several years to submit the results of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) as part of their applications.

Alexis Avila
Founder Prepped & Polished, LLC

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

Standardized Test scores tend to rank second in list of importance for college admissions officers. Grades come first. Test Scores are still important, very important.

Jenn Cohen
Owner Jenn Cohen Tutoring

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

Although test scores seems to be the source of the most press (and the most anxiety), grades in quality courses are absolutely the most important parts of your application. Students should always prioritize their coursework over SAT prep! I always recommend that students do their test prep during summer vacation if at all possible to avoid conflicts with their regular classes. However, test scores are still important. If you're in competition with another applicant for admission, a higher test score could tip the scales in your favor. Selective schools may also have score cutoffs that you have to meet to even warrant serious consideration. Finally, good scores may qualify you for scholarships.

Eileen Ed.D.
Associate Director Educational Directions, Inc.

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

Standardized tests are only one piece of the application puzzle. The original intent was to create a benchmark so that colleges could feel assured that a student who goes to a "name" private school and a student from a large urban public high school could display knowledge "equally". It is not a perfect system, as we all realize--some people receive tutoring to perform better, some people receive accommodations that others may view as an unfair advantage (this is not true, but that is the subject of another question!), and some people who are at the top of their class are just not good at taking these types of tests, even though everyone knows they are perfectly capable students--but it does work as part of a process to find out some specific information about a potential candidate. What is very important to understand, however, is that because this is only one piece of the puzzle, you want to insure that you have also covered your other bases. If you get high SAT scores, for example, and have poor class grades, write a poor essay, do not take part in any extracurricular activities, and do not interview well, you are not helping yourself. On the other hand, if you get "only" average SAT scores but you have great class grades, a wonderful personal essay and recommendations, and agree to an interview, the standardized scores will become less important than other factors. Also, if your total GPA is somewhat depressed due to poor grades in your first year of high school, but you've performed better AND gotten good SAT scores, this can help you as well.

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

Standardized test scores are probably the second most important component of the application after curriculum and grades. While they should not take over your life, spending significant time preparing is necessary to compete at highly selective schools.

Sarah Contomichalos
Manager Educational Advisory Services, LLC

How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

It varies by college. Some state schools require a minimum score for admission others are more flexible. Some colleges are test optional and do not require test scores.