Standardized tests remain a basic part of the college admissions process, regardless of the number of schools that have adopted test-optional admissions. The majority of accredited four-year colleges still require applicants to provide a SAT or ACT test score. Even some schools with test-optional admissions still use the SAT or ACT to determine class placement and award scholarships.

More importantly, although a number of schools have changed to test-optional admissions over the past year, other schools have confirmed their policy of using standardized test scores in making admissions decisions. Large universities that must screen tens of thousands of freshman applications each year find the scores especially helpful in comparing academic records from different school systems and getting a quick idea of where a particular candidate fits within the broader applicant pool.

The important thing for applicants to remember is that SAT and ACT scores are only one of a number of factors that admissions officers consider when they make admissions decisions. Only a small number of schools still follow policies whereby students who achieve a certain test score are automatically granted admission. Instead, most schools consider standardized test scores in the context of other information included in the application, including the applicant’s high school record, essays, and recommendations.

That means that a lower-than-average SAT or ACT score is not necessarily a barrier to college admissions. It’s certainly a problem – an applicant whose test scores fall below the average range for a targeted school will have to work harder to get admitted than a student with higher scores would. They will have to present other evidence of academic ability to convince the admissions committee that they could do the work that would be required of them in college. Mitigating a low test score may be difficult, but it can be done.

What is more important for high-achieving students to remember, however, is that the holistic review of college applications also means that a high SAT or ACT score is no guarantee of admission anywhere. Applicants with high test scores can be – and every year, some are – denied admission to their preferred schools. Each year, Princeton accepts only around one-half of the applicants who boast perfect SAT scores.

You have every right to be proud of yourself if you do well on the SAT or the ACT. You can breathe a bit easier, too, knowing that one part of your college applications is safely taken care of. But those test scores are only one part of your overall application. Your admissions outcomes will depend on the impression that your overall application makes, not just on your test scores.

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