Test Prep

Should I Apply Early Action with So-So Test Scores?

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Question: I have taken both the ACT and SAT twice during my high school career. All four tests have been a letdown for me. I am extremely active outside of school (two jobs, sports, band, etc.), and I'm wondering if I should use my mid-tier ACT or SAT scores for Early Action or retest and apply for Regular Decision. My GPA is around a 3.7-3.8 unweighted. I have taken seven AP/IB courses in high school. My highest ACT was a 27, and SAT was a 1290. I plan to apply to Purdue, University of Florida, Ohio State, University of Cincinnati and Florida State.

With four test sessions under your belt and comparable scores on the ACT and SAT, the odds aren’t good that yet another test attempt will bring a meaningful bump-up to your scores. So at this point, “The Dean” suggests that you forge ahead and apply to all of the colleges you’ve named. Most have an Early Action option, which you should choose. U. of Florida, however, has a Nov. 1 deadline and then reviews future applications on a space-available basis, so Early is best there, too. Although in a perfect world your application would include higher test scores, your best bet at this point is to indicate your interest with an Early bid.


Your ACT of 27 actually puts you in the median range at every college on this list, although you’re at the bottom of that range at U. of F (it’s 27-32 there) and at Ohio State (27-31), but near the top at Cincy (23-28).

You don’t say where you live, but if you’re not a Florida resident, you’ll have to consider U. of F and FSU (ACT range 26-30) to be “Reach” schools. Both of those places have become really competitive in the past several years, and out-of-staters must be extra strong to get good news.

Granted, even these big universities take a “holistic” approach to admissions, so they’ll look at your course rigor, your grades, your extracurricular achievements, your recommendations and your essays, not just your standardized test results. But with so many qualified candidates vying for too-few spots, you have to keep your test scores in the equation when estimating admission chances.

A few other considerations:

- If you apply by the Early deadlines but then re-test and do significantly better, you can still submit your new scores, and they will be considered if your fate has not already been decided by then.

- The major you select may have some impact on your verdict. You don’t give the breakdown of your ACT or SAT by section. But if you’re applying for a quantitative field such as math, science, computer science or engineering, and if your math scores are significantly better than your verbal numbers, it could work in your favor. Conversely, if math is your weak link, it will probably hurt you if you’ve listed one of those majors as your first choice.

- If you want a professional opinion of your admission chances at the colleges you’re considering, then order “Stats Evaluation” from College Karma. It costs $150, but once you complete a brief form, an admissions expert will assess your acceptance odds at all the colleges you’ve named on the form and offer suggestions on how to improve them where possible. You’ll also get recommendations of other colleges that meet your profile and preferences.

Although your test scores aren’t as good as you’d hoped, you will clearly bring many pluses to campus, and some college will be lucky to get you.

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