Test Prep

You Got Into College -- Should You Retake SATs to Boost Scholarship Odds?

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Good news – the acceptance letter you've been waiting for has arrived! Now, the question remains: How are you going to pay for school? You may have received a financial aid package from the school, or maybe you won a stipend for books. So now you're looking at scholarship options to help fund the rest of your education.

However, those scholarship deadlines are looming, and your SAT or ACT scores need to be somewhat higher to make you eligible to apply. So this is what you need to figure out: Will you be able to successfully study for the SAT or ACT, retake the test and get your new and improved scores back in time to submit them with your scholarship applications?


Dr. Dave Bergman thinks this may not be the best plan. Bergman, who is director of content for College Transitions and co-author of The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process, says you'll be dealing with a “tight or non-existent window. The vast majority of private scholarship deadlines are in the fall, or at the latest, January. Additionally, only seven percent of the total aid awarded to college-bound students comes from private scholarships, so it may not be the best area for students to focus the bulk of their attention, especially this late in the game.”

Another issue that you should be aware of is that a private scholarship can actually decrease the financial aid offered to you by a school.

“Applicants need to be careful when pursuing private scholarships, as many schools will actually recalculate a family’s Expected Family Contribution based on any additional aid from outside sources. This can limit the overall positive impact of procuring a private scholarship,” Bergman says.

So unless the private scholarship you're aiming for offers a substantial amount of money to cover all or much of your tuition and living expenses, think carefully before applying.

Consider This Option Instead

Bergman says that going after institutional aid is “a far more feasible method” of reducing tuition costs. He points out that you can actually try to negotiate for a better financial aid package with a school that has accepted you -- although this may still involve retaking the SAT or ACT to show off a better score.

“For example, if a given school accepts you with an 1100 SAT and offers little aid, but then you retake the test in January and score a 1230, the school may be willing to throw more merit aid your way in an effort to encourage your enrollment,” Bergman explains.

If you decide that you just don't have the time or ability to retake the SAT or ACT, don't worry -- you are still eligible for other kinds of scholarships. There are many sources of money for college that do not focus on your standardized test scores or on your academic record at all. In fact, some scholarships are more interested in the non-academic side of you, like your athletic abilities, your community service, your interests and hobbies, your ethnic background, your hometown, your faith, etc.

Start researching scholarships as soon as possible. The earlier you discover private scholarships you are interested in, the more time you will be able to give yourself to raise your test scores and become the most eligible candidate for that stash of cash.