Test Prep

Should Transfer Applicants Retake the SAT/ACT?

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When students head to the dorms for their first year of college, they may have visions of staying there for four years and then graduating, but the reality is that about one-third of college students transfer at least once. This can be due to a variety of factors, and may even be planned from day one, particularly for students who attend two-year schools and expect to head to a four-year college down the road. But no matter what the reason, there are myriad factors to take into account when making transfer plans.

One such factor involves this dilemma: You took the SAT and ACT several times in high school, pored over your results, sent the scores to the schools on your list and completed the application process. You decided to attend a particular college, but after being at the school for a while, you found that it wasn’t the right fit and began to consider the possibility of transferring. So -- do you retake the SAT/ACT? Or do you submit your high school scores to the colleges on your transfer list?


The answer, like most everything involved in the college application process, is not one you’ll find in black and white on any list of requirements, but is a personal choice you should make carefully.

Consider These Factors When Deciding

Fortunately, most students won’t have to retake their standardized tests, since scores are typically valid for five years following the test date. However, students may decide on an individual basis to voluntarily retake the test. Whether to test again hinges on several factors, said Matthew W. Greene, PhD, of Matthew Greene Educational Consulting, LLC, with offices in New York City and Westport, Conn.

It depends, of course, on an individual college’s requirements, score levels and a student’s prior scores, and whether that student is likely to be able to improve the score performance substantially,” Greene said. One reason that test retakes are not necessarily required for transfers is that scores sometimes become less important after a student is already in college.

“Transfer admissions focus predominantly on a student’s performance in college-level coursework,” Greene said. “As time goes by, standardized test scores become less important. They are, in the first place, used as a (not very strong) predictor of freshman year GPA. Once a student is documenting an actual freshman year GPA, the scores become less relevant.”

Therefore, you should assess whether a dramatic change in your test score is possible, particularly since you’d be doing test prep while taking college-level courses and working on your transfer applications. If not, you may not want to retake the test.

No matter what you decide, try to always look carefully at the specific testing and other requirements (GPA, course prerequisites, deadlines, etc. ) for each program you're considering so nothing falls through the cracks on your transfer application.

What’s the Optimal Transfer Period?

Once a student makes the decision on whether or not to retake the SAT or ACT, he or she may begin to focus on when the best time is to make the transfer decision. While some say transfer applications during freshman year have the best chance of success, others advise not to apply for transfer until later in college. The reality is that there is not necessarily a “target period” that schools look for from their transfer applicants.

“Following on my point above, the more classes a student does well in, the better his or her chances for transfer admission become, though most students will not want to apply after they have begun their junior year of college,” Greene said.

Because the transfer decision hinges on so many factors, students should weigh the decision on when to apply carefully, and perhaps even speak with counselor at their current school -- as well as transfer admissions officials at their goal schools -- before making the decision.