Last Updated: May 8, 2014
by Erin Howell
Chances are if you are a current junior in high school, you have taken either the ACT or SAT this school year. Some of you may be anxiously awaiting your results, while others have already had the chance to review results and compare them to the admission requirements of the colleges you are applying to.
If you are worried about how well you did on your ACT or SAT and whether your scores are good enough, I can assure you that you are not alone. During my experience working with high school students, I found there were several common questions and concerns students and their parents had regarding tests used for college admission purposes. I’m here to hopefully address some of these concerns.
Q: How important is my ACT/SAT for getting into a college?
A: Ultimately this depends on the college to which you are applying. In some cases, colleges will not accept students with ACT/SAT scores below a certain number, while others take a more holistic approach to reviewing college applications (meaning they prefer to consider the applicant based on the entire application, and not just individual pieces). I encourage you to visit the websites of your prospective colleges and review their admission requirements carefully.
Q: How many times should I take the ACT/SAT? Is it worth retaking it at all?
A: I always encourage students to retake the college admission test at least once. According to actstudent.org, 57% of students who retook the ACT in 2013 scored higher the second time. The odds are in your favor. As far as a limit to the number of times you retake the tests, that is up to you. Two things to consider about retaking your test: timing (At which point do colleges no longer accept new scores?) and cost (If you are on the free or reduced-price lunch program at your school, talk to your high school counselor about receiving a fee waiver.). In my experience, many students don’t see increased results in their scores after taking it a third time, but I’m sure there are always exceptions to this.
Q: Why should I retake the ACT/SAT?
A: There are a few reasons you may want to consider retaking your college admission test. Apart from the probability that you will score higher your second time, achieving a higher score has its benefits. Having a higher ACT/SAT score may open the door to more colleges to which you can apply. Secondly, even if your current scores qualify you for admission to the school of your choice, having a higher ACT/SAT score may mean more merit-based scholarships. I once had a student retake the ACT, and by going up one point, her college offered her an additional $6,000 per year in scholarship money. For most students, that extra money would be completely worth the effort of preparing for and retaking an exam.
Q: Should I take both the ACT and SAT?
A: It is important to know the admission requirements of the schools for which you are interested in applying. Some colleges require the ACT, while others require the SAT. Many (if not most) schools will accept either test for admission purposes. If you are not yet sure which colleges you will apply to, try taking both so as not to limit your choices later.
Q: Should I take the writing portion of the ACT?
A: In case you apply to a college or university that requires the writing section, I strongly advise taking it. At this time, you are not able to take the writing section of the ACT by itself, so you would have to retake the entire exam in order to complete the writing section.
Q: What if I don’t do well on my ACT/SAT? Does this mean I can’t go to college?
A: Not at all! There are a few options for students who may not be good test takers but are prepared and want to attend college.
Option 1: Community college. If you want to attend college but aren’t qualified for admission to the school of your choice because of a low ACT/SAT score, you have the ability to attend a two-year school first and then apply to transfer to a four-year school. For many students this isn’t ideal, but it still provides you with the chance to attend your dream school. In many cases, once you establish yourself as a college student, when you apply as a transfer student, the college will be more interested in your experience in college student rather than high school, which means no ACT/SAT score requirements. (Bonus: Oftentimes, community colleges are less expensive, so chances are you’ll also save money in the long run this way.)
Option 2: Applying to colleges that are test-optional. If you are determined to avoid community college and attend a four-year school, but are afraid your test scores will prohibit you from achieving your goal, there is good news. There is a lengthy list of colleges and universities that do not require an ACT or SAT score to apply and be accepted. That’s right, the rest of your application will speak for itself, and your lower test score will not be counted against you. You can find this list of test-optional colleges, as well as more information here.
Q: Does it help to study? Should I pay for an ACT/SAT prep program?
A: This is entirely up to you. Most students do better if they have prepared in some way, but only you know which teaching/studying style you are comfortable with. There are plenty of test prep options out there, ranging from online websites to in-school and private tutoring. It definitely does not hurt to prepare and study for the ACT/SAT, but it is a personal choice of how you decide to do so. Check out our post here for additional tips on studying for the ACT/SAT.
Bottom line: Take your ACT/SAT seriously, but try not to stress to the point that it impacts your personal and academic life. Take a deep breath, do your research, and know there are options for every student that wants to pursue a college education. As always, we at Cappex are here to assist you along this journey.
Image credit: serc.carleton.edu
Original Post Date: May 7th, 2014