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How Important is Your SAT Score in College Admissions?

Feb 3, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Many people put a maniacal amount of importance on SAT scores when it comes to your chances for college acceptance. But the SAT isn’t the only factor that goes into deciding your acceptance—and at many colleges, it’s not even close to the most important thing. Whether you’re a high school student stressing about the SAT’s or a nontraditional college applicant worried about whether you have to take the test, here are some facts you should know about the SAT.

It’s not the most important factor at most colleges

True, many colleges use the SAT to gauge whether a student is ready for post-secondary education. But most colleges care more about high school transcripts—your grades in school and how difficult the courses were. The SAT is there to supplement the record—and it can help you out if you have a low GPA and high SAT scores. But it’s not the only factor, or at some colleges even the most important factor, in college admissions.

Sometimes you don’t even need an SAT score

College Student Studying

Your SAT score may be an important part of your college application—but it may not be as important as you think.

Some colleges don’t require you to take any kind of standardized test before admitting you. Others will allow you admittance based on your scores in college-specific subject testing—this is often how nontraditional students without SAT scores are admitted. In addition, students who have taken the ACT may not have to take the SAT as well. It always pays to check with the admissions department at the college you want to attend if you’re not sure.

If you’re attending a two-year college, you’re less likely to need an SAT score

Many two-year colleges require only a high school diploma or GED, and don’t put as much emphasis on the SAT score as a factor of admission. Some community and technical colleges require students to take assessment tests, but these are usually used to determine class placement and whether remedial courses are needed—not as a factor of admission.

SAT scores matter more at elite private colleges

Competition for “top college” spots among the nation’s elite private colleges is cutthroat—and these schools will do anything they can to raise their ranks. One important factor in gauging the exclusivity and national ranking of a top school includes the average SAT scores of its admitted freshman class—the higher the scorers, the better the school, or at least that’s what is assumed. As a result, an elite private college is more likely to use SAT scores as a method of screening applicants than a lower-ranking college is. Still, this is not the majority of colleges—and plenty of colleges emphasize other factors as much as or more than an SAT score.

Diversity often matters more to schools than SAT scores

That said, many schools face equal pressure to raise the diversity of their student body. This often means reducing their SAT requirements in order to admit more students from inner-city and economically challenged backgrounds. These students often can’t afford expensive SAT prep and didn’t go to the best public schools, and are often at a disadvantage when competing with students from wealthier backgrounds. Many colleges make a strong effort to level the playing field by reducing the importance of SAT scores in admissions.

Your SAT score may be an important part of your college application—but it may not be as important as you think. If you have a strong GPA and a history of diverse extracurricular activities, these things may matter more to colleges than your SAT. And some colleges don’t require SAT’s at all—especially from nontraditional students. If your SAT score is low or nonexistent, don’t stress too much—in all likelihood, it won’t keep you from attending college.


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