The SAT Myth

by Dr. Dean Skarlis on September 30, 2012

For parents entering the college search and admissions process, there’s a great deal of noise from other families about the realities of the world they’re entering.  One of the biggest myths is that standardized test scores (the SAT, ACT, and the SAT Subject Tests) have become much less important.  This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Many families mistakenly conclude that because more colleges have become “test optional,” (meaning  they don’t require students to submit test scores), that admissions officers are placing less emphasis on such tests.  This is an incorrect assumption for three reasons:

1.  Even those students who actively seek out such “test optional” options will still have at least one or two schools where the SAT or ACT is required.  So they still must take the tests at least once or twice.

2.  Most colleges who are test optional are not test optional for scholarships.  So while they afford you the choice of not submitting your test scores for admission, they will not consider you for a scholarship unless you do submit them.  Unsuspecting parents may not realize that this will be prohibitive from a cost perspective. 

3.  The SAT and ACT have actually become  much more important mainly because there are more kids applying to college than ever before.  More students are heading to college directly after high school (about 70% compared to only 60% twenty years ago).  In addition, more kids are applying to more colleges than did students two decades ago.  So there are a glut of applications and roughly the same number of colleges. 

If you were a college admissions officer at say, Boston University which receives more than 42,000 applications, how would you read apps?  You would first look at high school GPA, and then SAT or ACT scores.  If they were in the general ballpark, then you would continue reading the rest of the application.  If those two numbers were moderately close to your middle 50% ranges, then the app would go in the “maybe” pool.  If they were a little further away from your ranges, you would not even read the rest of the application. 

In this way, SAT/ACT scores are critically important because they are part of a “triage” process of reading applications.   This type of reading is not only typical at large colleges, but at many medium and small sized schools as well.   This is why parents and students should take these tests very seriously, engage in a strong test prep program, and have a year long strategy for when to take the exams and which scores to report to which colleges.

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