Test Prep

Should Student with 36 ACT Skip the SAT?

Question: Our son is now a Junior in a college-track high school with mostly AP courses. He has about a 3.6 GPA. He will be pursuing engineering or some similar technical field. Our choice of colleges has always been limited to non-Ivy, and we have been figuring on a good in-state school (eg ASU in Barrett Honors program) with maybe a reach to Embrey-Riddle or Cal Poly or similar; those would need a scholarship.

Our son recently took the SAT II Math 1 (680) and Math 2 (780). He didn't study for these and plans to repeat them next fall, with better prep. More importantly, he just took the ACT and got a 36 (rounded up from Math 35, English 35, Reading 36, Science 36). He got an 8 on the optional writing part.

So suddenly we have to consider *not* taking the SAT, which we had planned for Jan or Feb. Your previous advice was simple: with a 36 ACT, don't take the SAT because you can only go down. But we wonder what a college will think, even so. If we expand our horizons and try to look at more / higher OOS schools (though still not Ivy / MIT), are any of them going to be unhappy with no SAT?

Basically – if we skip the SAT, how likely are we to regret it?

If this were my son (and perhaps it WILL be … more on that in a minute), I'd tell him, “Skip the SAT and never look back." There is absolutely no down side for your son should he submit only his ACT score.

My own son, also a high school junior, is slated to take the ACT and the SAT in the spring. But he will do the ACT first, and if his ACT score is high, I promise you that he'll be burning his SAT registration card!

Last Sunday I had lunch with a friend who is an Ivy League admission official and whose daughter is in 10th grade. My friend said that her daughter will probably take the ACT and not the SAT I at all. So if this route is good enough for an Ivy admissions honcho, you and your family certainly shouldn't worry about “regrets."

BUT … if your son is applying to tech programs—even if not at MIT or the Ivies—he may encounter colleges that expect (or at least “recommend") a science Subject Test in addition to the math. So he might disadvantage himself—or limit his options—with only Subject Tests in math. Carnegie Mellon University, for example, requires either a physics or chem test as well as math.

So this “dean" suggests that your son should forget about future SAT I testing and, instead, focus his efforts on preparing for either a physics or chemistry Subject Test. Even when these aren't required, strong scores can boost his admission odds and possibly his merit scholarship chances as well.

UPDATE: The dad who sent the original query wrote back to say that his son took the PSAT in October and–although his scores aren't in yet–he might be in the running for a National Merit Scholarship, depending on how he fares on those PSAT's.

So “The Dean" must amend her answer to say that possible NMSF contenders DO (unfortunately) need to take the SAT I because the ACT doesn't count for National Merit. (Hate that policy!)

However, students have until December of their SENIOR year to take the SAT for National Merit, so I would advise current juniors, like this boy, to focus on Subject Tests, if needed; to use the high ACT for college applications; and not to worry about taking the SAT until it's clear that it will be necessary in order to continue through the NMSF maze.