Can You Get Into College if You Don't Do Well on the SAT?

Bad test-taking skills can lower your SAT score even when you know the material.
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Whether you've studied for months or simply relied on what you learned in high school, a low SAT score can be a devastating blow. The SAT is an imperfect test, though, and a low score doesn't necessarily mean you're not intelligent or can't thrive in college. You can still get into college with a low SAT score, but you'll have to rely on other admissions criteria or consider retaking the test.

1 Importance of Scores

Every college and university has its own admission criteria. Although grade point average and SAT scores usually factor heavily into admissions decisions, some schools prioritize one or the other. Check with your school's admissions office to find out admission criteria. You may also want to consider looking at schools that weight GPA more heavily than SAT scores or that offer scholarships to students who participate in extracurricular activities and volunteer projects.

2 Retaking the Test

Test anxiety, illness and poor preparation can all affect your SAT performance. If you think you can get a higher score with more preparation or even just a better night of rest, consider retaking the test. At many schools, the admissions office looks at the highest combination of scores. Thus if you score higher on the verbal section the first time and higher on the math section the second time, your school would look at the two higher scores.

3 Other Admissions Criteria

Your GPA, as well as the number of challenging courses you take, weighs heavily in admissions decisions. If you have a strong GPA, it might balance out a low SAT score. Extracurricular activities, a stellar essay and excellent recommendations can also help to mitigate a low score. If, however, you've struggled in school and avoided activities, you might have trouble getting into your first choice. In this case, it may be better to apply to a safety school then choose to transfer a year or two later.

4 Test-Optional Schools

Not all schools require that you take the SAT. If you don't want to retake the test, consider applying to a test-optional school. High-ranking schools such as Hamilton College, Colorado College, Middlebury College, Furman University, Union College, Lawrence University, Agnes Scott College, Drew University and St. Michael's College all allow applicants the option of an SAT-free application packet.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.