How Important Are Test Scores to College Applications?

The importance of SAT and ACT scores differs by school, experts say.

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SAT. ACT. That's six letters that every high school student dreads. But in the ever-changing landscape of college admissions, are standardized test scores still important? The short answer: yes. This week, our experts weigh in on just how important those scores are in comparison to the rest of your application.

Q: How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?

A: Tests are one puzzle piece but do not define you.


Ralph Figueroa, director of college guidance, Albuquerque Academy There is no doubt that standardized tests are an important piece of the puzzle in helping colleges decide which applicants will do well if they are admitted. In fact, the importance placed on tests has grown in recent years. Still, the test scores are just one piece of the puzzle and do not define you as a student or person. Whether they are really good, not so good, or somewhere in the middle, don't let them be more important than they are. Remember the amazing colleges that are test optional (www.fairtest.org) and let your scores just be what they are.

See all of Ralph's expert admissions advice.

[Learn six myths about standardized tests.]

A: The importance of test scores really does depend!


Pamela Ellis, founder, Compass Education Strategies LLC The weight of standardized test scores relative to other pieces of the application can range from 0 percent to 80 percent. As part of the college research process, students should determine this weight based on where they're applying. It is very college specific. A number of colleges are test optional, which means that the scores carry no weight at all. For example, if a college uses test scores to determine merit aid, then that's important to know when deciding whether to retake. Even for colleges that use a computer rubric to determine admissions, scores are not all that matters when the high school courses take precedence.

See all of Pamela's expert admissions advice.

[Get tips on preparing for the SAT and ACT.]

A: For some colleges, scores don't matter, but there's a catch.


Stephanie Meade, owner, The Collegiate Edge The relative importance of test scores depends on two things: 1) which college to which you are applying; and 2) whether we are talking about admissions or scholarships. For admissions, virtually all colleges care more about good grades and challenging classes than test scores, and about 850 schools even have "test optional" admissions policies. (See FairTest.org for a list.) But many colleges, particularly those with extremely competitive admissions, and some public schools, still care a lot about scores. And here's the catch: Many colleges, even some that are test optional, use test scores to award "merit aid" scholarships, which is financial aid not based on need.

See all of Stephanie's expert admissions advice.

[See more about college scholarships.]

See 10 more answers at the Unigo Expert Network for more about need-based admissions and to have your own questions answered.