Are you wondering whether the SAT (or ACT) really matters? Do you need the test to get into college? Can a great score make up for bad grades?  Will it help you get into college? Does the test actually predict success in college?

1. SAT scores are different from GPA

Maybe your SAT score is way worse than your GPA. Maybe your GPA falls flat in comparison. Either way you’re probably wondering how this will end up looking to colleges. How much weight does this test really have?

Most of the time, test scores do matter. Most colleges ask for them (either the ACT or the SAT) and consider them as part of your application. But there are two cases in which colleges won’t necessarily need your SAT or ACT score– even for freshman admissions (i.e. transfer applicants may not need scores at all).

Test Optional

A handful of schools have a test optional policy.  For test optional schools you can choose whether or not you actually want to send in your SAT scores it. You can just send everything else, your GPA, your activities and essays. And you just apply based on those elements alone.

Test Flexible

In the case of test flexible, you might just need to send in an AP scores instead or some other test that they might accept. When it comes to test flexible schools, what they accept and what they expect you to give them changes a lot. So if you’re looking at test flexible school, you should check their individual policies to be sure you know what they need from you.

There are over 200 schools in the United States that are either test flexible or test optional. Generally these types of schools are what we call National Liberal Arts Colleges. What this means is they are smaller and generally only have an Undergraduate program (vs. a University). Examples of schools include:

  • Middlebury College (VT)
  • Bowdoin College (ME)
  • Colby College (ME)
  • Hamilton College (NY)
  • Smith College (MA)
  • Wesleyan University (CT)
  • Colorado College (CO)
  • Bates College (ME)
  • Bryn Mawr College (PA)

You may have heard of some of these colleges or recognize some of them. These are all either test flexible or test optional schools so they have slightly more flexibility when it comes to SAT scores.

As far as National Universities, there are not nearly as many that forgo test scores as part of the admissions process. A few examples of some of the more prominent or recognizable schools include:

  • Wake Forest University (NC)
  • University of Rochester (NY)
  • Brandeis University (MA)
  • New York University (NY)
  • University of Texas – Austin (TX)
  • George Washington University (DC)

You can sometimes get away with getting into a school without taking the SAT. But as you can tell there are a ton of schools that are not on this list. So if you want to expand your potential schools then you should consider taking the SAT or the ACT.

2. How much does it matter compared to my GPA?

It varies from school to school how much it matters. But for a lot of very competitive colleges scores will usually matter. However, in my experience as a tutor and college admissions consultant, I have found that schools favor people with a higher GPA most.  

How much a college weighs your test score also may depend on your context. If you go to a school in a neighborhood where it is out of the norm to have test prep, then you may not necessarily be judged in the same context as someone who went to say an expensive, prep school where everyone puts emphasis on upping their score by any means possible. When you are from a more competitive context, the college is more likely to judge your test scores more competitively. If you come from a context of generally low test scores and a have a relatively higher GPA, you may have a better chance of admission.

One of the most important things to remember is that as long as it is not November of your senior year, you can still do something about your test score. You can study, and improve you score and put yourself in a better place.

If you’ve taken the SAT and you didn’t do well at all, then consider taking the ACT and check out our Free ACT Prep Guide. We have over 10 hours of free video content. It’s a great way to start your ACT prep journey.

3. Should the SAT Matter?

Probably not as much as it does.

A study done by the former Dean of Admissions at Bates College, William Hiss, tracked the grades and graduation rates of students who applied with test optional policies. The study took a group of students who did not submit their scores and compared it to a group who people who did submit their scores. The assumption is that the people who submitted their scores likely did better on these tests and felt more confident submitting them.

What did they find? They found that that the kids that were accepted in test optional group performed almost entirely the same as those that submitted scores. There was a .05 point difference in GPA of students who did not submit scores–only slightly lower. As far as the graduation rate, it was .6% lower for those who didn’t submit scores. That’s less than 1% difference– probably not very statistically significant.

The point that this study is making, is GPA is a much better predictor of how students are going to do in college. Similarly, essays and all the other soft factors that colleges take into account produce similar results as when schools consider test scores as well.

Whether or not the admission policies will take into account what these studies reflect is another story. Like it or not, these tests really do still matter for you even if they shouldn’t.

So now what?   If you are going to be taking these tests check out some more of our videos and our Free ACT Prep Course. In the mean time good luck prepping for your tests or finding a school that can help get you out of these tests!