Doing well on the SAT can distinguish you as a strong candidate for admission to many colleges. However, while the SAT is the most widely used college admission test in the U.S., it is not required by all schools and many offer a choice between the SAT and the ACT. Standardized test scores are just one of several factors that college admissions officers use to evaluate you as a potential undergraduate student.

Standardized Test Options

While admissions policies vary between colleges, many require either the SAT or the ACT, enabling you to choose which test best suits your skills and abilities. In the past, the SAT was regarded as the test to take if you planned to apply to highly selective schools, but that attitude has changed and most colleges state that they have no preference between the two tests. The formats of the SAT and the ACT are different, so students who complete practice material on the official websites for both tests can make an informed decision about which one to take.

Scores are Not a Mystery

Most colleges publish their SAT data, so the average scores for accepted students can often be found directly on their websites. The College Board also offers a free practice SAT test online so potential students can get an idea of how they’ll perform on the real thing. Seeing how your scores stack up against those of your potential future classmates can help you determine whether applying to certain colleges makes sense for you.

Significance of Scores Varies

Colleges assign different weight to SAT and ACT scores, depending on their individual admissions policies. Ivy League schools generally place more importance on high scores, but most emphasize that they use a holistic admissions approach when evaluating applications. At Dartmouth, for example, test scores are certainly important, but their impact depends on the overall strengths and weaknesses of a particular student. Additionally, nearly 850 schools across the U.S. do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of students. American University, for example, has a test-optional policy that does not require either test for admission.

Beyond the SAT

Excellent SAT scores are clearly appealing to colleges, but there’s no doubt that other components of the application are very important as well. Your high school transcript and letters of recommendation enable admissions officers to gauge your past academic performance and gain insight about what might set you apart from other applicants. Additionally, the application essays offer a window into who you are as a person and a compelling, sincere essay can help students stand out among the competition.