The Ivy Coach Daily

November 26, 2022

When to Submit SAT and ACT Scores

SAT ACT Scores
A piece in New York Magazine focuses on test-optional admissions policies.

Thinking of applying to top universities this year without an SAT or ACT score? Loyal readers of Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog know where we stand on the issue of test-optional: all else being equal, a student with a great test score will always enjoy an advantage over a student with no test score. This is in spite of what admissions officers at so many of our nation’s elite universities — except for at schools like Georgetown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — may say to the contrary (the leaders of Georgetown and MIT’s admissions offices, unlike so many of their peers, are rather forthright with respect to their views on the submission of test scores). That being said, it doesn’t mean we advise all of our students these days to submit an SAT or ACT score. After all, all of our students at Ivy Coach — even those with dreams of earning admission to America’s elite universities –don’t necessarily have stellar SAT or ACT scores. In these cases, when their test scores will not serve their candidacies, we encourage them not to overshare since oversharing could easily work against them.

Should Students With Great Scores Still Submit SAT or ACT?

Allow us to share an example. In a terrific piece for New York Magazine by Jeffrey Selingo entitled “What Does an SAT Score Mean Anymore? The mass pivot to a test-optional approach reshuffled college admissions. MIT decided it was done.,” he writes, “Stuyvesant students are good test takers, but even then, [Jeff] Makris, [Stuyvesant’s director of college counseling], agrees, ’there’s a lot of situations where it’s a gray area.’ He recalled a senior last year who came to him for advice about whether to send her just-under-1500 on the SAT to an Ivy League school. He showed the student the middle 50 percent of test scores for those who had enrolled a year earlier. ’’Technically, looking at data that is now about a year old, it looks like you’re a little bit under,’’ he told her. He reminded her that admissions officers understand Stuy’s rigor and that they would ’respect’ her grades. ’’I could go either way,’’ he remembers telling her. ’’But why volunteer something that could potentially work against you?’’ The student’s dad later emailed Makris, disagreeing with the counselor’s take; Makris doesn’t know if the student ultimately applied without scores, but either way, she was rejected.”

Have Great SAT or ACT Scores Changed Over the Last Few Years?

And a great SAT or ACT score just a few years back isn’t necessarily a great SAT or ACT score today. Why’s that, you ask? Because many of the applicants who previously submitted lower SAT or ACT scores now aren’t submitting test scores. So admissions officers, in short, have gotten spoiled. They’re now quite used to only seeing top scores — top scores that boost their median and mean SAT and ACT scores for the incoming class. Applicants who don’t submit test scores simply don’t factor into these figures, while applicants who submit what may have been very nice scores a few years ago but don’t bring up the overall figures this year are a drag on the school’s data and thus face an obstacle to earn admission.

Do Admissions Officers Speak the Truth About Test-Optional Policies?

Finally, to those applicants who are saying to themselves, “But an admissions officer told me that I’d be at no disadvantage if I submit an SAT or ACT score since the school is test-optional,” know that we’re rolling our eye backwards, forwards, and sideways. Admissions officers often don’t tell it like it is. After all, the task of an admissions officer is to inspire you to apply. The more students who apply, the lower the school’s admission rate will be, and invariably the higher the school will be ranked. So admissions officers don’t want to say anything that will jeopardize you submitting an application. But don’t take them at their word when it comes to test-optional policies.

Could Admissions Officer Be More Transparent About Test-Optional Policies?

Case in point? In the same piece, Selingo writes, “At a session I moderated, one of the panelists, a high-school counselor from Florida, said the students she works with still believe they need a test score — and a high one at that — and the audience burst into applause. They did again when she said the lack of transparency by colleges around test scores makes it impossible to advise students. Another panelist, Yvonne Romero Da Silva, the vice-president for enrollment at Rice (which is test optional for now), said, ’I don’t know what more we can say. I mean 25 percent of our students are at Rice without submitting a test. I think that’s some of the proof that’s in the pudding.’” What more can you say, Ms. Da Silva? You can release the percentage of students who have earned admission with and without scores each of the years since Rice has been test-optional. Let us be the judge if applicants to Rice really face no disadvantage for not submitting SAT or ACT scores.

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