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

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

  • MIT is the first prominent school to reinstate required test scores for the class of 2023 based on internal research.
  • In June 2021, Georgia’s public university system announced that its colleges will again require test scores for enrollment and merit scholarships in 2022. 
  • After the pandemic began, 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/SAT scores are required for Honors Scholarships

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

Test-optional often means that no test score is required for admission. But many test-optional schools financially reward students for ‘college-ready’ ACT/SAT scores. The grid below illustrates how tuition cost decreases at three test-optional colleges with a higher ACT score. Students headed to trades or community colleges should also test prep. Many two-year colleges also give scholarships thanks to a higher test score. 

Work hard to jump that score now or possibly pay more later. Increasing your test score remains the best-paying job a high school student can have. 

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, two SAT 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. 

A higher ACT or SAT score triggers merit-based and need-based aid. That higher score may also give an applicant a competitive edge in selective college admissions versus students who submit no scores. About 85% of applicants to test-optional University of Chicago chose to submit scores. 

That test score can also mean NO remedial classes 

Class placement also matters. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln requires engineering majors to have a 24+ ACT. An ACT score of 22+ waives most freshmen year remedial classes at both two- and four-year schools. These “high school do-over classes” 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.