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Why Colleges Care About SAT & ACT Scores

*Update (8/17/20): Because of COVID-19 and the subsequent limitations on testing for students, many schools have become “test-optional,” which means they accept and review SAT/ACT scores, but they will not hold it against you if you do not submit scores. It’s completely up to you!

Now more than ever, it’s helpful to know the real reasons SAT or ACT scores matter, so you can make important decisions about whether or not you should take it. If you’re a senior, you must navigate the best and sometimes limited options you have available. However, 10th and 11th graders have more time to consider the possibilities, and therefore, should especially consider the following information.*


We all know that high SAT or ACT test scores can turn a good college application into a great college application. With higher test results, you may even receive scholarships from your university or academic program!

If you’ve read MEK Review’s Top 10 Admission Factors, you know that your college test scores rank second only to your GPA as the most important factor on your college application. This can place a lot of pressure on students to perform well on the SAT or ACT, especially if your top choice is known for being highly competitive or selective.

However, the reasons behind the importance of these tests may surprise you! The college admissions board has a lot of reasons to inquire about your SAT or ACT scores, and not all of them are what you think.

Here are three important reasons why you have to include your test results on your college application:

Reason #1. Test scores help them review applications faster.

Scores can make or break whether your application is even reviewed!

The number of students applying to colleges keeps growing every year, even though the number of admissions staff that must review applications stays mostly the same.

This means admission officers have hundreds of applications to review and are looking for quick ways to place applications into the rejection pile. Glancing quickly at test scores is one of the main ways admission officers decide if your application will even receive a serious review.

In fact, according to Forbes magazine’s college admissions expert Steve Cohen, “at the very selective college and universities, there is a very scary reality: if you don’t have a 700/700 [SAT score], you’re just not getting on the table.”

*2020 note: With so many colleges going test-optional, you don’t have to worry about a test score keeping you off “the table.” Instead, it’s likely that test scores this year could help in the opposite way. With so many students not submitting test scores, this can help you get in the “yes” or “next round of reviews” pile, faster!”

Reason #2. High test scores make THEM look good.

You might think colleges care about test scores because they want to see your aptitude and mastery of high school material.

This is not completely true.

Most colleges report publicly the average SAT and ACT score of their freshmen class. The higher the average the more prestigious they appear.

Colleges care deeply about increasing their reputation and exclusivity, and test scores are a key way they can accomplish this. So much so that even schools that purport to not care about test scores, do care!

This is one of the key reasons schools allow SuperScoring – a score process in which they only formally review your highest score in each section of the SAT or ACT. It’s not a kindness, it’s so they can report higher average test scores!

It’s the same for test-optional schools. Usually, the students who choose to submit test scores are those who scored high. The result? Usually the year after a school becomes test-optional, their  average SAT score for incoming freshmen goes up. And consequently, they look good.

Reason #3. Test score ranges encourage future applications.

A school’s average SAT or ACT score range doesn’t tell the whole story.

When colleges report the range of SAT or ACT scores that their freshmen class achieved, they usually give the 25th and 75th percentile. This reflect the average score range for that incoming class.

For example, you might see a university whose entering class had a 25th-75th  SAT range of 1300-1500. If you earned a 1330, you might think you have a great shot at acceptance.

In truth, unless you have other outstanding parts of your application, your chances of admission are fairly small.

The bottom half of a school’s test score range reflect students with other decisive application factors such as athletics, performing arts, or other special distinctions. For a strong chance, you need to score closer to the 75th percentile.

Why don’t colleges make this clear?

They want to encourage many students to apply because the more applicants they have, the more they can reject, and the more their prestige grows.

This is even true of test-optional schools. When a college doesn’t require students to submit test scores, the number of applicants increases. However, they do not similarly raise the number of acceptances. The lower acceptance rate (the percentage of total applicants a school accepts) raises their reputation as “exclusive” and “selective.”

What this means for you

We may not like all the reasons behind it, but it’s clear your test scores matter a lot for college admissions. Use this knowledge to your advantage by preparing for the SAT or ACT and earning your highest possible score.

*2020 note: As a senior, we recommend that if you can take the SAT/ACT, you should. If your scores are good, submit them. It will be an advantage to you in this admission cycle. However, if you cannot, then start thinking of other ways to make your application shine through your essay, activities, or grades. If your 10th or 11th grader, we recommend you plan on taking the SAT or ACT. Start preparation in the fall to give yourself plenty of time to maximize your score. Then register for test dates that will be less in demand such as December SAT/ACT, February ACT, or March SAT.

Get started by signing up for a free SAT practice test, while seats are still available!


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