How to Decide Whether to Take the SAT or ACT This Year

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to take the ACT or SAT--especially with COVID-19. Here are some things to consider to help you.

One of the biggest debates high school juniors are having this year is “should I take the SAT or the ACT?” Like all things in college admission, the answer is: it depends. Here in Georgia (and many other southern states), students have no choice if they want to attend an in-state public college or take advantage of the state scholarship program. The Board of Regents has decided not to go test-optional for fall 2022 applicants, and even this year, students had to have test scores to qualify for the Zell Miller Scholarship. (Although, the deadline for submission has been extended.) With all this in mind, here are a few considerations to help you decide if should take the SAT or ACT for fall 2022 admission.

Consider your college list

First, you need to check the test-optional policies for the schools on your college list. According to FairTest, more than half all US colleges and universities are already test-optional for fall 2022—some have even gone test-blind. If every single school on your college list is test-blind, don’t take the SAT or ACT. Test-blind or test-free colleges don’t use standardized test scores to review your application, and they won’t consider your scores, even if you send them. If all the schools on your list require standardized scores for fall 2022, you’ll need to take either the SAT or ACT if you want to apply to those schools.

Related: How to Narrow Down Your College List

Consider test-optional policies

While 550+ colleges signed NACAC’s Test-Optional Means Test-Optional statement this admission cycle, not all schools are truly test-optional. Some schools still need test scores for students to be considered for merit scholarships—and others for highly competitive majors like Engineering and Nursing. Some schools use the phrase “test-flexible” and will only review an application without test scores if a student is unable to test. Test-flexible schools usually say they prefer scores, and some require you to submit your scores if you’ve taken the SAT. Ask admission counselors the hard questions: What percentage of admitted students applied test-optional? Will I be considered for all programs and scholarship opportunities if I apply test-optional? How important were test scores in the application process when they were required? Find out if there was a preference for students who submitted scores over students who applied without them.

Consider your scores

If you had a chance to take the SAT or ACT (or even a practice test), you may be wondering if you should submit your scores with your application. Unless you apply to a school that requires all scores (or a program where you need them), it will be your choice. Look at the admitted student profile to gauge where you stand. For colleges that report test scores, are you in the upper 25% of admitted students? Your scores would most likely help your application then. If your scores put you in the bottom 25% of admitted students, leave them out of your application. Note: Schools that went test-optional for the first time this year most likely saw an uptick in their mid-50% or average SAT/ACT scores this year since students with lower scores most likely did not submit.

Related: What Should You Do if You Have a Low SAT or ACT Score?

Consider the rest of your application

Ask yourself: Will your test scores enhance your application? Maybe you had a rough freshman year, and you’re still working to boost your GPA. Strong SAT or ACT scores will help enhance your college application. On the other hand, maybe you work a part-time job and have to take care of your siblings, and you don’t have the time to prepare for standardized tests. Your grit and determination can come through in your admission essay or résumé in a way no test score can quantify.

Consider your health

We’re still in a global pandemic, and everyone has different comfort levels regarding COVID-19 exposure. Many students have health complications, or they have immediate family members who are at higher risk. If the schools on your list still require tests, reach out to them directly with your circumstances and see if any exceptions can be made. If you live in a state like Georgia, Florida, or North Carolina, where the governing board has to decide, reach out to the board and your representatives to advocate for test-optional policies. Share your story and your struggle. You can also share the facts and test-optional data from FairTest. If they don’t listen, shift your list. No school is worth risking your personal safety and health. Only test if you feel like you can do so safely.

Related: The Future of the SAT and ACT During COVID-19

College admission is a personal process, and there’s no universal answer to any one question. You must consider your strengths, needs, and desires to make the right decisions for you. If you can safely test and choose to do so, there are places that will welcome your scores, and if you decide against it, there are other schools that will be thrilled to have you.

For more up-to-date and pertinent information on the pandemic’s affect on the college search and application process, check out our COVID-19 student resources page.

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