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Why Students Should Take the ACT or SAT

The Princeton Review conducts an annual survey of students applying to colleges and parents of applicants. The 2020 College Hopes & Worries Survey found that 40% of respondents believe taking SAT, ACT, or AP exams is / will be the toughest part of your (your child's) college application experience.

The college planning and application process is a long one. My current seniors would tell you that the toughest part of the college application experience is waiting to hear from the schools they applied - whether they’ve been accepted, denied, waitlisted, or deferred.

However, for anyone who feels that standardized testing is the hardest part, let’s break it down.

The Effects of COVID-19 On Standardized Testing

The pandemic of 2020 and the stay-at-home mandates that followed, meant that students couldn’t take the ACT or SAT since there were no open high schools (which normally provide the space for the Saturday morning tests) anywhere in the country. Even after states and their high schools began re-opening, there was not access to tests in all 50 states, or even within all counties of certain states.

Thankfully, colleges and universities responded quickly making the ACT and SAT optional as an admission requirement. As of today, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, more than half of all 4-year colleges and universities did not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores for fall 2021 admission.

How Many Students Actually Submitted Test Scores for Fall 2021 admission?

Quite a lot actually.

It will be many more months before all the data for the 2020-21 admission cycle is reported by college’s institutional research offices, but we do know that among student’s applying Early Decision (binding), the percent that submitted ACT or SAT scores was still high. A couple examples:

  • Duke University: 60% of this year’s ED applicants submitted SAT or ACT test scores.

  • University of Pennsylvania: 62% of this year’s ED applicants submitted test scores, and of those admitted, 76% did submit test scores.

  • University of Notre Dame: 69% of admitted early applicants submitted test scores.

Test Optional Policies Opened Up the Flood Gates of Applications to Some Colleges

Test optional policies led tens of thousands of students to think “why not?” and throw their hat into the ring for the first round of Early Decision admissions at some of the most highly selective colleges in the nation. With a flood of applications and no increase in available spots for freshman admits, some colleges saw a huge increase in applications - as high as 57% (Harvard University) to 22% (Brown University). This, of course, drove down acceptance rates as low as 5% at MIT.

3 Reasons Why High School Juniors Should Test

The pandemic continues with new surges across the country. January tests are likely to be cancelled in California and other hot spots in the nation, with February being a big question mark. As more and more of the country re-opens, hopefully in spring, there are several reasons why juniors should consider taking the SAT or ACT.

1. A strong ACT or SAT test score gives Admission Officers one more helpful piece of information about your college readiness. Without test scores, other components of your application take on increased importance including the essay(s), letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities. Think of the college application as a pie: the fewer pieces, the larger they are. Here’s a visual I created:

2. Merit Scholarships! Even some schools that have gone test optional use SAT or ACT scores to award merit scholarships for incoming freshman. If you do well on the test, your scores could substantially lower the cost of your tuition.

3. More Money! A significant percent of outside scholarships still require an SAT or ACT score to be submitted as part of the application process.

Note: if you plan to only apply to University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) system colleges, a recent ruling prevents all CSU and UC schools from even accepting SAT or ACT scores for all applications during the 2021 and 2022 application cycles making these schools test blind for admission purposes.


This blog post was written Janice Royal, MA. She is the Founder and CEO of Royal College Consulting.

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Phone: (714) 319-0399


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