Hey juniors and seniors—the ACT and SAT still matter a lot! 

Even as many colleges temporarily extend their test-optional admissions policies another year, the ACT  and SAT still can greatly affect merit-based scholarships and college admissions. 

  • In June 2021, Georgia’s public university system announced that all of its colleges will again  require standardized test scores for enrollment and merit scholarships in 2022. 
  • After the pandemic had arrived, in a 2020 NACAC (National Association for College Admission  Counseling) survey of admissions officials at 221 colleges, more than 82% answered that they gave standardized test scores “considerable or moderate importance” in admissions decisions. 
  • In June 2021, the Montana University System Board voted to make scores optional for admission,  though ACT scores will be required for Honors Scholarships

Taking the test is optional for those excited to pay full price 

Test-optional often just means that no test score is required to get in. But many test-optional schools  financially reward students for ‘college-ready’ ACT scores. The grid below illustrates how the tuition cost  decreases at three test-optional colleges thanks to a higher score. Students headed into the trades or  starting at community colleges should also prepare for an ACT because many two-year colleges also give  scholarships thanks to a higher ACT score. 

Juniors and seniors, these three colleges and so many others give scholarships based on scores. So work  hard to jump that score now or possibly pay more later. Increasing that score remains the best-paying job  a high school student can have. 

And which students especially should prepare hard for the ACT? 

All students from families with less than $160,000 in annual income, especially free-and-reduced lunch  students (who get four ACT tests for free), should also prepare for the ACT because significant need based eligibility does not guarantee significant need-based aid. If two applicants with equal need and  equal grades apply for aid, but one does NOT submit a score and one submits a ‘college-ready’ ACT score, who do you think might receive more aid? A higher score bolsters that transcript and can make college  affordable for students who need financial help the most. 

Not only does a higher ACT or SAT score trigger merit-based and need-based aid, that higher score may  give an applicant a competitive edge in selective college admissions versus students who submit no  scores, one reason about 85% of applicants to test-optional University of Chicago pre-Covid chose to submit their test scores. 

That test score can also thankfully mean NO remedial classes 

There is also the issue of class placement. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one school that requires  its engineering majors to have at least a 24 on their ACT. And an ACT score of 22 or higher should waive  two- and four-year college applicants out of most freshmen year remedial classes, the high school do-over classes that offer no college credit and reduce the likelihood of ever graduating. 

The ‘optional’ in ‘test-optional’ is misleading 

Extracurricular activities are optional, but students should join them. Filling out the FAFSA is optional, but  most families should fill out their FAFSA each year. Many colleges are currently test-optional, but better  test scores can mean merit scholarships, a freshmen year with no remedial classes, and a competitive  advantage for need-based aid and selective-college admissions

Further, the NCAA is requiring a test score again for athletic eligibility. 

So seniors, we suggest taking two more ACTs (offered in September, October, and December) or two more  SATs (offered in August, October, November, and December) to maximize scholarships and admissions options. Juniors– get ready to hammer the grammar this spring.  

Test Day is Pay Day. A higher score triggers opportunity and money. And for now, you have nothing to  lose by trying: if your final ACT score doesn’t help, apply with just your transcript– you may still have a  fighting chance for admissions and money. But if that score is high enough to help, use it. Leverage it. A  higher score bolsters your GPA and your entire application.  

Now just go get that higher score.