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With the recent trend of more colleges going test optional, you may think that test scores have become less important in college admissions, but this isn’t exactly the case. The reality is there are many schools and many categories of students for whom test scores remain to be very important. So let’s break it down.
Why Test Scores are Still Important
Currently, there are over 850 colleges and universities in the United States that are test-optional, or “test-flexible” in some capacity, but these make up less than ⅓ of the 4-year colleges and universities in the country. SAT and ACT scores are considered by many institutions to be the most effective data points we have right now to compare students from different high schools and different parts of the country. These tests are not perfect, by any means, and they do not accurately assess many of the intelligences and skills a student might bring to a school, but, for better or worse, they are what colleges have right now to use as an equalizing factor. And so they will remain an important component in admissions at many schools, particularly large institutions. Even many schools that appear to be test-optional are not truly test-optional for all students. They may require other testing in lieu of the traditional SAT or ACT, such as AP or IB scores, or they may require scores from student athletes and students seeking scholarships even if they aren’t required in general admissions.
Test Scores are More Important at Some Schools than Others
Every higher ed institution ranks the factors it considers in admissions from “very important”, to “important”, to “considered”, to “not considered”, and you can find this information online in college profiles. For example, Yale lists test scores as “very important,” the University of Michigan lists them as “important,” and Harvard lists them as “considered.” But because this information is self-reported, you have to take it with a grain of salt (Harvard boasts some of the highest test scores in the country, after all). Test scores are also calculated into U.S. News and World Report rankings, so this puts additional pressure on schools seeking higher rankings to increase the average SAT score of their admitted students.
Still…Test Scores are Just One Factor in Admissions
Knowing how important test scores are to certain institutions can give you valuable insight into the level of scrutiny that your SAT or ACT score report might face, but it is also important to keep in mind that scores are only one factor in admissions. Most institutions consider your high school transcript and GPA to be the most important component in admissions and also consider other elements such as essays, teacher and peer recommendations, extracurricular activities, and personal obstacles. This is a good thing for students who feel that their test scores do not best represent them, but it also means that students should realize that test scores might be even more competitive at their dream schools than they realize. Say a school deems test scores a “considered” factor in admissions and releases a middle-50 percentile SAT score range of 1200 – 1450 (I’m using new SAT scores out of 1600, since that is what we will be working with from now on). You may think your 1250 makes you competitive at this school, and it might, depending on the rest of your profile. But remember that this score range is likely pulled down by some students who have been admitted for special reasons. You should always target scores in the upper half of this range, then, to consider yourself to be truly competitive. If you’re wondering how to improve your ACT score or your SAT score to move up in this range, one of the best ways to do so is to practice with all of the official tests you can get your hands on (and do so under a time limit). You can find previously given SATs and ACTs on the College Board and ACT websites as well as in the official books published by these organizations.
The moral of the story is that good test scores can only help you in college admissions. Test optional schools are a great choice for students for whom the SAT or ACT is not a good fit, but, with the state of college admissions today, good scores still stand to open up a lot more doors.
About Kristin Fracchia
As Magoosh’s resident ACT Expert, Kristin creates awesomely fun ACT lessons and practice materials for students. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.
All views and opinions of guest authors are theirs alone and are not representative of the views of Petersons.com or its parent company Nelnet.
The prospect of college can be a very exciting as well as a little scary. Your life is about to change dramatically, in many ways. Soon you’ll be attending a university, living on campus, and taking classes that will actually lead to your future career! It seems anticlimactic that your preparation consists mostly of tedious applications and almost endless research. While it can be frustrating to spend so much time and effort on such brain numbing tasks, persistence and follow-up can ensure that you get into the school that is the best fit for you, and obtain all of the financial aid that you deserve.
You’ve put the time in. There were the hours spent researching and applying to scholarships, writing essays, and gathering references. You’ve spent your time investigating schools, finding the ones that you feel would be the best fit for you. Finally, you’ve worked to complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), reviewed it for accuracy, and it has been sent off to your school choices. Once your schools receive your FAFSA report, they will begin their process of determining what financial aid you are entitled to. The report helps the school determine the Federal financial aid you can be awarded, but it also is often used for other types of grants and loans that the school may offer.
Now is not the time to rest. Once you have been informed that your FAFSA is complete, and you have reviewed your Student Aid Report (SAR) and made any necessary corrections or changes, then your FAFSA information will be sent to the schools you have listed in your application. Now it’s important to follow up.
Check with each school where you have applied to make sure they have received your application. While most of the time a school receives your FAFSA report without a problem, it would be very unfortunate if you were denied admission into one of your top school choices because the school never received it. If it hasn’t been received, most of the time either you or the school can work with FAFSA to make sure it is sent to the school.
Once you have confirmed that the FAFSA report has been received, you can ask the school if there is any other information they need from you and inquire when you could expect to receive an awards letter. This does a couple of things. First, it gives you a timeframe for when you can expect to know how much financial aid you will receive. Second, it leaves a good impression with the school. You show that you are a proactive student who is deeply committed to your education, and it expresses your desire to attend the school. Following up is essential. Being proactive will put you a step ahead of those who simply wait to hear from their school, and help you avoid an unexpected setback.
Completing your FAFSA application can be a tedious and lengthy process for both students and parents, particularly the first time you go through the process. After gathering your tax information and other paperwork, you and your parents likely spent quite some time entering in information, answering questions and signing (electronically in most cases) the FAFSA application, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR).
If you provided an email address during the application process, the Student Aid Report will be emailed to you. If you didn’t, then you’ll receive a copy of the report in the mail. If you completed the FAFSA online and signed it using your FAFSA ID, then you’ll most likely get your emailed copy within 3-5 days, or mailed to you within 7-10 days. If you didn’t sign online, but rather printed and returned a signature page, then the report will likely be available to you after about 2 weeks. If you make a change or correction to your FAFSA, it will generate a new report – in some cases immediately, and 3-5 days in other cases.
Once you have completed the FAFSA and received your SAR, it is important that you review it carefully for accuracy. This report is what your school will use to determine your Federal aid. It can also be used to help determine any other scholarships or financial aid that may be available to you. Any errors in the report could affect the student aid that you received.
The report will also tell you if your application is complete. If it is complete, it will contain your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). If it is incomplete according to FAFSA, then it will provide information about what else might be needed. However, just because FAFSA shows your SAR as completed and populates the EFC, that doesn’t mean that you have completely entered everything in accurately. When reviewing, ensure that you have entered all of your information correctly, and that you haven’t omitted information on any of the questions.
If you do need to make changes, either because you’ve found an error or because the report asks you for more information, you simply log into your FAFSA application and make the necessary changes. After you’ve applied the changes, you’ll receive another SAR to review.
After all the time you spend completing the FAFSA, it may seem overly tedious to review your SAR, but it is a necessary part of the process. Take the time that you need to submit an accurate and complete application. The Student Aid Report is your tool to make sure you’ve done everything that you need to do, and it is the same report your school will use. When you’re certain that your application is complete, you can be certain that you’ve maximized all of the financial aid you are entitled to.
The Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) offers assistance in paying for college in return for a promise to serve in the Army, Navy, Marines, or Air Force. A student enrolled in the ROTC will participated in military training around 4 hours a week, on average, during the course of earning a degree, and will receive scholarships to help pay for tuition as well as a monthly payment to cover living expenses while in college. You’ll also be required to enroll in elective classes and labs that are relative to your future military career. After college, you’ll enter the military as an officer.
It’s important to remember that ROTC is more than just a scholarship program, and you should be absolutely certain you wish to join the military after college before you apply for a scholarship. Your scholarship and monthly stipend are contingent upon your promise to serve in the military after your education is completed. If you fail to live up to your active duty commitment, you could be subject to ROTC disenrollment, which can include an obligation for you to repay the aid that you have received and a mandatory active service requirement.
If you are a high school junior who is planning on joining the military and looking at ROTC as an option, it is important to start looking at this in March. There are 1,100 colleges that have ROTC programs for the Army and Air Force/Marines and about 153 colleges that have ROTC programs for the Navy. It’s important to talk to your counselor now to determine which of the schools you are interested have an ROTC program for the branch of the military you are interested in joining. If you currently participate in JROTC in high school, that organization can also help you find schools.
There are many considerations to applying for the ROTC program. It is helpful to have a B average for your high school career. If you can, join the honor society and participate in school programs such as athletics or student government.
It’s recommended that you apply to multiple schools that have the ROTC program you are interested in, to increase your chances of being accepted into a school. It’s also recommended that you start preparing and take the SAT or ACT test as soon as you can. Your performance in these tests will be a factor in your application for the ROTC program. You will also be required to take and pass a physical fitness test prior to being accepted into the ROTC program – so while you are studying for classes, applying for schools and scholarships, and preparing for tests, don’t forget to stay in shape!
So you’ve gathered a list of prospective colleges and you are ready to apply. But with applications fees stacking up creating a financial burden, which ones are the right ones to apply to?
By now you should have a good list of 5 to 10 or more colleges that you are considering attending once you graduate high school. These colleges should include colleges that are a long shot, some conservative selections, as well as safety nets like local universities and community colleges. The reality is, everyone wants to go to the best college, but a lot have to go to a more conservative option due to a number of reasons, including the cost of attendance, how far the college is from family, and what the college has to offer.
Whatever the case, March of your junior year in high school is a good time to start narrowing down your list of schools. But, how do you know which school is the right school for you?
There are many factors that come into play when choosing which school you want to attend, and ultimately the decision is up to you. However, there are a few things you should keep in consideration no matter what your particular situation is, for example, the cost of attendance, what majors the school has to offer, and the geographic location of the school in terms of where you want to live and how close you want to be from home. Other things to consider are extracurricular activities, such as clubs, sports, and special programs, housing options, and last but not least, the facilities on campus, like science labs, theaters, and gyms.
Each of these things should be carefully considered when deciding where to apply to. You don’t want to end up paying for application fees to places you don’t plan to go to anyway. Some of the can be upwards of over $100 to submit your application.
It’s crunch time for high school seniors preparing for college. For many, the end of the prior school year and the summer before senior year was spent applying for scholarships and grants and spent September applying to colleges.. Most students will have a decision from the colleges they have applied to by April, but there are things that need to be done before then.
Finishing up scholarship applications:
High school seniors should be finishing up the application process for most of their scholarship requests. It is important to review the scholarship application deadlines as well as ensure that all requested information for each scholarship is completed correctly. Many scholarships are very competitive and incomplete or incorrectly completed applications are often not considered. Others may require essays or letters of recommendation or transcripts. It is important to take the time with each scholarship that has not already been submitted to ensure that all requirements have been accurately completed.
Even though college starts in the fall, it is not too late to continue to look for other scholarship opportunities. This may be a good time to check with local social and philanthropic organisations in within the community for further opportunities. College expenses add up quickly and any extra fund sources, even smaller scholarships, are worth the time to investigate.
Two misconceptions regarding completing the FAFSA:
It is time to complete the FAFSA application, if it has not been completed already. Some students and parents think that they must wait until after 2016 income taxes are completed. Others think that they cannot apply for financial aid until they have been accepted by a college. Neither of these are true. FAFSA applications can be completed prior to income tax returns, and can be amended once the returns are completed. If a student has applied for more than one college, information on all colleges can be included in the FAS application.
With the FAFSA application, timing is everything. Many of the grants and financial aid options offered by the FAFSA are offered on a first come, first served basis. The sooner the application is completed, the more opportunities for financial aid will be available.
Most applications to college are decided in March or April. If a student has applied for Early Decision or Early Action, then likely he or she has already received the decision. It is important to speak with admissions counselors and understand the complete admissions process. Regardless of the admissions process for the individual college, having the FAFSA completed will simplify the process.
It can sneak up on you. Sure, you’ve thought about college in the past, but suddenly now it’s just over the horizon. One more year of high school is all there is before you pack your bags and head off to higher education. Now, in addition to your current schoolwork, homework, and extracurricular activities, you’re looking at colleges and researching scholarships. There’s so much to do!
Contemplating the ACT® test can be daunting, but it’s an important part of preparing for college. Your ACT scores will be a very important factor schools look at during the application process. If you feel overwhelmed or concerned, it’s tempting to postpone the test. After all, you could take the test as late as September of your senior year.
That may not be the wisest course. Unless you have a very specific reason to wait, it’s a good idea to start preparing and schedule your test as soon as possible. We have two great ways to help you prepare for the test: Peterson’s ACT Prep Guide and online practice tests.
The Peterson’s ACT Prep Guide provides detailed information on each of the five test categories, general information on the test itself, and six full-length practice tests.
The Online Prep Course provides similar information on the test but has a few more added features. You can get an initial diagnostic that will give you an idea of where you should focus your study. It also allows you to enter your testing date and even has automated essay scoring to take the guesswork out of the test.
Remember, if you do your prep work, take the test, and are not satisfied with your results, you can take the test again. Testing early gives you more of an opportunity to continue ACT prep and re-take the test than if you waited until later in your junior year to take it the first time.
If you take the test the first time, and feel that more assistance might help you get a better score on the test, these ACT preparation products are readily available to you.
There is a lot to do between now and the end for your senior year to prepare for college. The best course is to continue to make steady progress. Getting the ACT under your belt sooner will allow you to focus on your other goals. This is one you shouldn’t put off. Take the test as soon as you can!
It’s election time. As is usual, we hear a lot about the high cost of higher education from all of the prospective presidential candidates, each of whom is working hard to connect with young voters. Yet when the election is over, very often the rhetoric about reducing college costs or helping struggling students tends to die down. Other priorities seem to rise to the foreground and very little is done to help with the cost of education.
However, the rhetoric regarding college education has been changing in recent years. More people are seeing higher education as a right, rather than a privilege. Public K-12 school was established with the idea that this basic level of education should be accessible to all, because it is difficult to make it in the world and be a contributive member of society without this basic education. As we continue through the digital age, K-12 education no longer provides that basic level of education needed to be successful – a college education or some kind of secondary vocational training is essential.
Places like the University of the People start for this very reason, stating clearly that everyone should have access to higher education. UoPeople is a non-profit university that is associated with and is partially supported by many groups such as the United Nations, UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization), and the Clinton Global Initiative.
The philosophy behind universities like this is simple: higher education creates economic development both on a global scale and on a personal scale. This is especially true in developing nations, where quite possibly the lack of access to education can keep entire societies in a position where they are unable to lift themselves out of poverty. The theory is: an educated world is a more productive and peaceful one. This is a sound theory, one proven in many parts of the world. India, for example owes its relative peace and rise as a developed nation at least in part to its efforts to educate its citizens.
At UoPeople, anyone who is qualified for higher education should be able to get it. A prospective student must be able to demonstrate that they have at least a 12th grade education in order to be ready for college level work; have a qualified level of English, and access to internet. Those who attend pay no tuition, simply a $100 exam fee at the end of each course and a one-time $50 application fee to register. For those who are unable to afford that, scholarships are available. The college is fully accredited, and the courses are online – so they can be taken from anywhere around the world. Currently there are Associates and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science available, but a new Health Science and MBA program will likely be added in time. In 2015, the school reached an enrollment level of 3,000 students.
While still in its infancy, the school is growing and providing a high quality education that will help students get high paying jobs later in life. The development of this school and the degree programs makes us wonder – will more schools like this pop up? Is this a possible template for universal college education in the future? It’s worth thinking about.
Thinking about attending college? Congratulations! You’re on the first step towards planning for a successful future. But what should you do next?
The first step is to start sending letters or emails to the colleges that you want to attend. Do this in January of your high school junior year so that you have plenty of time to submit all of the application materials by their due date. The college application process can often be time consuming and require you to write and gather various paperwork, like letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, personal essays, ACT and SAT scores, and sending your transcripts.
Each of these things will take time, so preparation is key here. Plan on asking for information from 5-10 colleges. You don’t have to apply to all of these schools, but this will give you a good sense of what prospective colleges are looking for in their future students. Consider diversifying where you ask for information. Contact a couple of colleges that you have a good chance to get into and a couple of colleges that might be a long shot. Also, contact colleges close to home and away from home. It will be good to compare prices of colleges with both in-state and out-of-state tuition, financial aid assistance, and living costs, so that you know what to plan for.
As you start to gather all of this information, start a list of follow up questions that you come across. Jot down anything that comes to mind, like asking about their acceptance rate, student to teacher ratio, and what the dorm life is like for current students. This whole process can be overwhelming, so ask your parents and mentors for help. They will
love to help you plan for your future.
Now take a deep breath and start looking forward to a bright future ahead!