Should I take the SAT?
Test optional--What does it mean? Will it help or hurt my chances to take the SAT/ACT? LAUNCH co-founder Sara Bitner explains the ins and outs of the new admissions environment regarding standardized testing.
How COVID changed the scene
It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the world of US college admissions in a big way. One of the biggest and still lingering effects of the early days of the pandemic is the role of admission tests: the SAT and the ACT. If you remember back to March 2020, testing locations around the world abruptly closed, leaving students who hadn’t yet tested no way of getting (or improving) a score. If colleges were to exclude these test-less individuals, they would have had a significantly smaller applicant pool with generally lower scores and would have needed to increase their acceptance rate in order to meet enrollment numbers. Both of these things could damage a college’s standings in the notorious USNWR Rankings, not to mention the fact that they could be opening themselves up to discrimination lawsuits that could easily make their way up to the Supreme Court. Colleges had no choice but to switch to test-optional admissions.
When these decisions were dripping out, LAUNCH was sending out weekly updates as to when testing locations might reopen, and listing all the colleges that had made the move to test-optional. Private colleges were able to make this switch much faster, as they do not answer to their state governments, but eventually, the vast majority of 4-year colleges (including most public colleges) declared that they would be test-optional for the next three years. Which brings us to the class of 2024. Many of those three-year test-optional pilot programs are coming to a close, and universities need to decide whether they will keep up the test-optional policy that has led to record-breaking application numbers three cycles running, or if they will return to requiring incoming freshmen to report a test score.
As we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, private 4-year colleges are more likely to keep test-optional admissions policies. Public 4-year colleges have to get test-optional policies re-approved and might be forced to return to the testing requirement.
So what does this mean for your student?
Here at LAUNCH, when a student is considering whether to prepare for and take the SAT or ACT, we consider several factors:
What is the student’s starting point? We have all our students who are considering testing take a free practice test from Khan Academy. We look at this score in terms of the middle 50% of scores from colleges the student is considering. Is the starting score already in the middle 50%? If so, a bit of test prep and a solid score could strengthen their application even further.
What is the student’s GPA? Does the student already have really strong grades? Then they are less likely to need a test score. If a student’s grades are lower than the average GPA at their target colleges, they could compensate for their lower GPA with a higher test score (in the top 50% of scores, or higher than the average score).
What curriculum is the student taking? US admissions officers are familiar with high school diplomas in their assigned regions in the US, and international admissions counselors know the IB Diploma, Canadian high school diplomas, and British A-Levels. Once you get into national curriculums from non-English speaking countries, like Dutch HAVO or VWO, German Arbitur, or the French Baccalauréat, experience may vary. Having a test score next to a less familiar high school curriculum can help colleges feel confident that you are prepared for the rigor of their college. Sometimes a certain SAT/ACT score will satisfy English language proficiency requirements.
Where are they applying? If the student has ambitions to apply to highly selective colleges with acceptance rates below 30%, we always recommend that they at least prepare for and attempt the SAT or ACT. Once the student feels confident they have maximized their score, we make a strategy of whether they should submit the score or not. If they want to consider public universities in states like Florida that always require a test score, we also recommend taking the test, but maybe only once and with minimal prep.
How much time does the student have to prep? Grades will always be more important than a test score in the world of holistic admissions, so if prepping for a test will cause the student’s grades to suffer, we always recommend that they apply test-optional. To make significant leaps in scores, we recommend at least two hours per week for at least 6 months before the test. Students who complete their test prep homework between tutoring sessions will make the biggest improvements.
Does the student experience severe (test) anxiety? If your student knows this about themselves, there are more than enough options available that do not require taking an admissions test. It is not worth sacrificing their mental health just to get a test score.
How important are merit scholarships to this student? While most test-optional colleges still award merit scholarships for students who apply without a test score, they might award even more money to the same student if they have a competitive application AND a competitive test score. If merit scholarships are a crucial part of a family’s financial strategy, we also usually recommend testing.
We can help you
Did you know LAUNCH has a dedicated Test-prep instructor? If you feel you need additional guidance on your situation, and/or specific test preparation, get in touch with us! We offer free consultations and can help guide you in your decisions.
You just might be added to the long list of LAUNCH grads taking steps to #dreamlaunchsoar.
LAUNCH Co-founder Sara Bitner attended Lehigh University before emigrating to the Netherlands with her partner. She specialises in Dutch Schools, Student-Athletes (rowing experience), and student essays. She loves helping global families in their higher education journey. Outside of work you'll find her reading, cycling, and cheering on her kids from the sidelines.