Admissions

Do "All Scores" Colleges Really Want Every SAT And ACT Score?

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Question: I’m applying to some very selective colleges that require all test scores. If I take both the SAT and the ACT, does this mean that I have to send all of my SAT results and all of my ACT results, or does it mean that I can just send all of my scores on one of these tests but don’t have to mention that I took the other? I’ve taken the SAT twice so far and the ACT just once. My SAT scores were pretty good so I might take the SAT again, but my ACT wasn’t so hot so I don’t want to retake it or use that score on my applications unless I have to.

This is a sensible question and it deserves a sensible answer. But, instead, you are going to get only an unsatisfying “it depends” from “The Dean.” Like so many aspects of the crazy admissions process, there is no consistency here. Some “All Scores” colleges expect to receive every score from either the SAT or the ACT, but students who tried the two tests -- like you did -- are not obligated to report scores from both. Some colleges, however, really mean all scores. Therefore, for those colleges, you’d have to submit results from your two (or possibly three) SAT sittings as well as from the ACT.


So how do you know what each college wants? Unfortunately, you need to read the instructions on every admissions website carefully. Well, that’s actually not a bad policy overall. ;-) But in this case, it can be annoying because the information isn’t always clear or easy to find.

At Stanford, however, it is. The university's admissions site clearly says, "All scores from all high school sittings of either the ACT or SAT (or both if you took both) are required." Therefore, if you apply to Stanford, you will need to include the ACT.

Yale, on the other hand, says, "Yale does not participate in Score Choice for the reporting of SAT or ACT scores. You should report all scores you have received on whichever test you choose to submit."

Not quite as clear as Stanford, eh? But Yale is more forgiving, and it’s the scenario that’s most favorable to you. Here, you can submit only your SAT results (all of ’em), but the ACT score isn’t necessary.

And at the University of Pennsylvania, the waters are even muddier. Penn’s admissions site says, "Although we permit Score Choice, we encourage students to submit their entire testing history for both ACT and SAT exams."

If you were my child applying to Penn, I’d say send just the SAT scores and forget the ACT, regardless of what Penn “encourages.”

Therefore, as you can see, colleges that require (or prefer) all scores don’t have the same specific policies. And “The Dean” (who grows increasingly more irked each year by these inconsistencies) maintains that if a college doesn’t clarify which scores are required, then send the ones you want to send and not the others. But keep the following related points in mind:

1. Even a college that wants “All Scores” really only wants all scores from tests taken during high school. Students who took the SAT or ACT in middle school — usually for admission to a selective summer program — are never required to submit those results at college application time. In fact, those scores are deleted from the permanent record unless the student has asked for them to be saved.

2. A growing number of colleges ... even “All Scores” colleges ... no longer require that students send official test results from the SAT or ACT. Instead, they will let you save time and money by self-reporting your scores on your application. (However, if you are admitted and plan to matriculate, you will probably be asked to verify your scores with an official report then.) So that’s another thing to look for when you’re reading those website instructions. But these policies are changing daily so check back in the fall, even if your target schools are still asking for official score reports right now.

Although it can be frustrating to decipher test-score practices that vary from college to college and to submit disappointing test results when you’ve also gotten better ones, admission officials really do focus on your best scores, regardless of what else is in your file. After all, it’s to their benefit as well to be able to brag about skyrocketing test medians every spring. So take comfort in the fact that the college folks want to disregard your lousy ACT score almost as much as you do. ;-)

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