What Colleges Are Looking for in Your SAT/ACT Scores

by
CollegeXpress Student Writer, Rice University

May   2017

Fri

05

You put all that time and effort (and stress) into taking the SAT or ACT….but why?! What are admission folks thinking when they see your score?

When I was a junior in high school, the words “fear” and “dread” were practically synonymous with college entrance exams like the ACT and SAT.

I remember walking into my testing room on a warm, spring morning to take the SAT for the first time, thinking that my performance on this test would essentially determine the course of my academic future. No pressure…

Today, I know better than to assume that students’ SAT or ACT scores automatically seal their fate. What I do know is that if I ever had the chance to go back in time to give my past self some guidance, I would make sure I was aware of how my standardized test scores fit into the overall picture.

Related: What do admission counselors look for in college applications?

So, what are colleges and universities truly hoping to find out from your test scores, and what role do standardized tests play in the college admission process? Though it may vary a bit from school to school, here are some general things admission folks are looking for when they review your SAT and ACT scores.

Your ability to handle college-level work

For starters, test scores help colleges and universities gauge how prepared an applicant is for college-level work. (Heads up: it’s harder than high school work.) When members of a school’s admission office review an applicant’s standardized test scores, they are most likely wondering, “Is this student ready for the rigor of the classes our school has to offer?” Standardized tests are meant to assess the math, reading, and writing skills you’ll need in college, so it makes sense that schools would view your scores as a reflection of those skills.

How you compare to other applicants

Another reason colleges value standardized tests is that they offer a method by which students can easily be compared to other applicants. Colleges know that not every high school provides the same classes, extracurricular activities, or even academic rigor. As a result, each applicant comes from a unique educational background. Because of this, many colleges and universities rely on the SAT and ACT to give them a standard way of evaluating students.

Your deserving of scholarships

Finally, many institutions also use applicants’ SAT and ACT scores to determine the allocation of their scholarship funds. Some do so by considering your test scores and other pieces of information like your GPA while others automatically award merit-based scholarships to students who obtain a specific score.

Related: Search for scholarships that fit you

Standardized test scores in the college admission process

Overall, just remember that while many four-year institutions do consider standardized test scores when making their admission decisions, test scores only make up a fraction of your college application. Contrary to popular belief, not doing as well as you’d hoped on your college entrance exams won’t necessarily break or make your chances of getting into your top-choice schools.

Every college has its own policies regarding how much weight it assigns to standardized test scores in the admission process. (Some don’t even require their applicants to take college entrance exams—aka test-optional schools.) Many colleges also perform a holistic college application review when evaluating students and look at other things in addition to your test scores such as your letters of recommendation, grades, application essays, and the types of classes you took in high school.

After taking my college entrance exams a total of five times over the course of my last two years of high school, I can promise you that colleges are far more interested in knowing whether you’ve challenged yourself throughout your time in high school than whether it took you three tries to improve your ACT composite score by one point.

So, now that you know a little more about how SAT and ACT scores are used in the college admission process, how do you feel? A little less concerned about your admission stats, we hope. (Or not so much?) Leave a comment or get in touch with us to share your thoughts.

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About Amanda Ochu

Amanda Ochu

Amanda Ochu is a college freshman currently studying for a BA in English and Policy Studies at Rice University. When she isn’t studying or trying to craft the perfect paper, she enjoys writing poetry, singing, listening to music, and spending time with friends.

 
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