The big day has arrived and you're ready to take the test -- but there's still one very important choice to make before you get to all those multiple choice questions: Will you allow your four free score reports to be sent out to colleges before you see your scores?
When Do I Have to Decide?
For the SAT at least, you won't have to make the decision on test day itself. You actually have several chances to opt in to the free score reports from the SAT:
- When you register for the test
- On test day
- Up to nine days after the test
You might feel more comfortable deciding on the free score reports after you've taken the test and had time to process your performance. In that case, it's totally fine to opt in up until nine days after the test date. Simply log into your College Board account online and make the changes there.
With the ACT, however, you must decide about the free score reports when you register for the test. After that point, you will need to pay to send any score reports.
Go Forth and Send?
So how do you determine whether sending in the free score reports is the right decision for you?
If you are pretty sure about getting solid scores on the SAT or ACT, if you've studied for weeks or even months, taken several practice tests with great result, then it may not be a bad idea to send in your four free score reports to your favorite schools.
But even if you aren't as confident in your scores, you could still send them in to some of the colleges on your list. Lisa Buchwalter, founder of BestFitCollege Consulting in San Francisco and Seattle, says that taking advantage of the free score reports will mostly depend on your budget and application deadline pressure.
“If finances are a big factor, a student may want to utilize their four free reports to automatically have four scores on test day. Another reason to send on test day: If a deadline is coming up, the student's file would not be complete without the test scores, and the student would not have time to wait for the test scores."
As in all aspects of life, constraints on time and money are pretty important factors to take into consideration. Keep in mind that if you order four score reports after you see your test scores, the cost adds up to $12 per school for the SAT ($31 for rush reporting) and $13.50 ($16.50 for rush reporting) per test per school for the ACT.
If you're in a rush to meet an application deadline, ordering the free report will get your score to the college more quickly than if you wait to see your results and then send in the scores. The test usually takes three weeks to be scored (however, it can be up to five weeks for certain dates), and then colleges will receive the free score reports anywhere from one to two weeks after the scores have been posted online.
But there are a few more reasons you might want to utilize the free score reports. If there are some schools on your list that you have found to be less selective in the admission process and you're pretty confident you'll clear their average score, then it's fine to send out a free score report to these schools, Buchwalter adds.
On the other end of the spectrum, some of the more selective schools may require that you send in ALL of your test scores from all the standardized tests you've ever taken in high school (SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Test). In this case, you can't really hide your less impressive scores from the school. But don't worry — these schools just want to see how your scores have progressed over the years. So if one of these schools is on your target list, then you should absolutely use the free score report.
When You Should Wait
Just because the score reports are free, it doesn't necessarily mean they will be of benefit to you. It all depends on your situation.
If you have significant doubts about how high your scores will be and you are not under a time crunch, it's usually better to steer clear of the free score reports and wait for your results.
To help you make a better decision, talk to your high school counselor or your test prep tutor to make the decision. What if you're still unsure by the time you have to register for the ACT or nine days after you've taken the SAT? Well, if you do actually have time to wait and cost is not an issue, “we advise students to wait in order to have control over their scores," Buchwalter says.