Due to COVID-19, some colleges are going test-optional and there is increasing public sentiment that the SAT or ACT may not be important to applications this year. Parents and students are relieved that they no longer have to worry about preparing for standardized exams.
I’m sorry, but you have been lied to. While it is true that some colleges have dropped the SAT or ACT as an admission requirement, most of the Top 100 National Universities still require the SAT or ACT for college admission this upcoming application cycle. Many colleges are even developing their own standardized test, which is a huge money-making venture.
For example, the University of California is planning to administer its own standardized assessment to judge students by Fall 2025 — if they charge the same price as the SAT to their 200,000+ applicants each year, the UC System will make over $10 million in annual revenue from its new test.
Always follow the money. Ultimately, this means students will have to take the SAT and ACT for most colleges and take separate tests for other colleges. Taking more standardized tests only adds to the stress of applying to college, and does not level the playing field.
In addition, the real value of getting a high SAT or ACT score is not for college admissions. It is for scholarships. Merit scholarships are financial awards that students receive based on their academic success — high school grades, extracurricular activities, and SAT or ACT scores.
According to Unigo, there are over 1,000,000 merit scholarships offered in the United States worth over $5 billion. Students who do not take the SAT or ACT miss out on many merit scholarships! Personally, after I improved my own SAT score 640 points, I received a half a million dollars in scholarship offers, so I didn’t have to pay a dime for tuition, housing, food, textbooks, or any other college-related expenses.
Even colleges that are going test-optional for admission this application season still evaluate SAT or ACT scores to determine which students to award merit scholarships. Most recently, the University of California announced that it is moving to test-optional not only for this application cycle but will completely eliminate the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement by Fall 2025. What you don’t see in all of the headlines is that the UC System is still “using standardized tests only to award scholarships, determine course placement, and assess out-of-state students.”
For example, the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) cites that “test scores” are part of their selection process in determining which students receive their Regents Scholarship (worth $24,000). If students don’t take the SAT or ACT, they are missing out on millions of dollars in scholarships awarded to students applying to “test-optional” colleges!
Let’s not forget about private scholarships as well. When I was in high school, many of my scholarships were awarded by companies such as Coca-Cola, Toyota, and McDonald’s. Merit scholarships such as these often receive even more applications than most colleges do.
For example, the Coca-Cola Scholars program receives over 90,000 applications each year for 150 scholarships. It is difficult to narrow down applications without a standardized test score for any competitive application process, whether for a college or a scholarship.
Ten years ago when I started Prep Expert, I told students to get a good SAT or ACT in order to go the best college they can. But things have changed: college tuition has skyrocketed, student debt is a national crisis at $1.6 trillion, and families are more financially strained than ever due to COVID-19.
So now, I tell students that it is far more important to get a good SAT or ACT score in order to reduce their cost of college through scholarships. A high SAT or ACT score is often a ticket to a debt-free college education.
A study by the U.S. Department of Education found that on average, high-merit students have 58% of their tuition paid for by merit-based financial aid! Unfortunately, need-based financial aid isn’t enough for most. For example, the Federal Pell grant covered just 29% of the average costs of tuition, fees, room, and board in 2017.
Detractors of standardized tests argue that these exams are unfair and that high school grades should be used instead. However, how do you compare grade point averages among high schools across the country that vary so enormously in their course difficulty and grading scale?
In addition, more and more high school teachers are handing out A’s — 47% of graduating high school seniors had an A average in 2016. How do you differentiate all those A-averages if you are an admissions officer at Harvard who received 43,330 applications for 1,650 seats for its incoming freshman class?
The answer is you can’t — no matter how “holistic” admissions committees claim their review of applications is. Using standardized test scores is a function of pragmatism — there simply isn’t enough time or manpower to evaluate every application thoroughly. For competitive universities and scholarships, standardized tests are here to stay.
Although the spring test dates for the SAT and ACT have been canceled, they will definitely take place in the Fall and Winter. We hope that it will be safe for students to take the traditional in-person SAT or ACT this Fall and. However, if that is not possible due to COVID-19, both the SAT and ACT have stated that they will make an online version available.
So what should your high school student do? Use this time at home during COVID-19 wisely and start studying. When I was in high school, I spent hundreds of hours in the library with 20+ SAT practice exams to improve my SAT score 640 points, and ultimately achieved a perfect SAT score.
This completely changed my life when I received $500,000 in scholarship offers. Students stuck at home can do this now too by prepping with free SAT & ACT classes to improve their test scores.
*This post was originally published on Medium.