Should You Still Plan to Take the SAT or ACT?

Last updated: Aug 11, 2021

Since the COVID-19 shutdowns, more than half of the 3,300+ four-year colleges and universities in the United States announced they would not require applicants to submit standardized test scores, and 85% of the top 100 liberal arts colleges have gone test-optional. It’s not clear if schools will make the test-optional change permanent, but if you’re a high school student, the only thing you want to know is this: Should you still plan to take the SAT or ACT, and will your choice help or hurt your chances of getting into college?

It’s a big decision. We suggest studying for and – assuming it’s safe to do so – sitting for the SAT or ACT to see how you do. Carefully consider your personal circumstances and your test results before you decide to submit your scores or to apply without them. Above all, research each school’s test-optional policy and deadlines.

Two students taking their SAT test.

Top Four Reasons to Opt in and Submit Your Scores

4. You’re Planning to Be a College Athlete

Both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Ivy League extended their eligibility policy related to COVID-19, waiving the requirement for standardized test scores. However, this policy is subject to change. If your athletic scholarship in the future might ride on a minimum eligible SAT or ACT score, it makes sense to study for it now and submit your scores, especially if they might strengthen consideration of your application.

3. You’re Applying for Competitive Scholarships or Grants

Although standardized test scores have often been a deciding factor for awarding scholarships, many programs have waived this requirement since there was no safe way for students to take the exams. However, many schools are already offering in-person classes, and the SAT and ACT do have exam dates scheduled for 2021-2022, so many colleges and scholarship committees may resume evaluating test scores as part of your scholarship and grant applications. For optional submissions, if your score adds value to your application, make plans to include it.

2. Your Target School Is Only Temporarily Test-Optional

While some schools have become test-blind or test-optional permanently (such as the University of California system), many colleges and universities simply had no choice but to go test-optional when the SAT and ACT could not be safely administered across the country. Which is to say they’re likely to resume standardized testing requirements now that the tests are being offered again. Check in with your top schools to see if their policies are changing and stay on the safe side by submitting your scores if they’re in the ballpark of the school’s average for applicants.

1. You Slayed It!

You studied like mad, enrolled in a high-quality test-prep course, and got the amazing results you worked so hard to achieve. By all means, submit those scores! This is a particularly ideal scenario for students whose GPA is a bit unimpressive or whose extracurricular life was limited. Displaying your academic ability with a killer score can make up for those deficits and help you land a spot at your top-choice school.

Four Reasons to Opt Out and Apply Without Your Scores

4. Your Target, Safety, and Reach Schools Are All Test-Blind

If your entire list of dream schools happens to reject the idea of standardized testing as a concept, then you not only should feel good about opting out, you actually are required to keep your scores to yourself, even if you hit a 36 on the ACT or a 1600 on the SAT. Test-blind schools won’t give them a second glance.

3. Your Score Is Much Lower Than the School’s Average

If your ACT or SAT score is less than the 25th percentile for admitted students, you’re doing yourself a disservice by submitting them to a test-optional school. Do so only if it is required for a scholarship. If test prep courses and extra studying for a retake do not move the needle enough to push you past that bottom quartile, strengthen your application with a different focus, such as volunteer work, creative pursuits, or a knockout GPA.

2. You Have Terrible Test Anxiety

If your first attempt at the SAT or ACT stressed you to the point of panic and your attempts to tame your test anxiety have helped, but not so much that you’re planning a retake, you might want to opt out or select schools that don’t put a premium on testing in general. Go ahead and take a pass on a second exam date. Limit your pool of potential colleges to test-optional schools and confidently send in your application without scores. It might seem strange, but your exam anxiety could end up landing you on a test-optional campus that’s a perfect fit for you.

1. Your Scores Pale in Comparison to Your Other Gifts

When a school is test-optional, it must give more attention to other elements of your application, such as:

  • Your high school curriculum (were you in a rigorous International Baccalaureate program or was the difficulty of your course load relatively low?)
  • Your weighted GPA (did you get As and Bs in AP classes or in regular classes?)
  • Your improvement over the years (if you had a rocky start in high school, did your grades get better over time?)
  • Your dual-enrollment record (did you prove that you can handle the time management needed for college-level work?)
  • Your list of extracurricular achievements, including work history.
 

If your first attempt at the SAT or ACT does not fairly reflect your true academic potential, opt out of sending them. But only do so if the rest of your academic record sparkles and clearly communicates that you would be an asset to that school’s student body.

Group of students taking their ACT test.

USF Can Help You Prep for That Exam

Even if you’re undecided about submitting your scores to a test-optional school, you want to be prepared to offer up a great score to tip the scales in your favor if you’re waitlisted or if you want to apply to a prestigious school that requires standardized test scores, such as USF. To get to the number you want, our test prep courses offer practical tips and powerful strategies, helping you achieve a score you’ll be proud to submit to any school.

Do you have questions about college entrance exams or the admissions process? Reach out to the USF Office of Admissions online or by phone at 813-974-3350. We’re ready to help.