SAT Anxiety is Upon Us

With October scores in, high school seniors are either smiling or sweating.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

If your high school senior took the SAT this month, your family is reviewing those scores that came in this week and taking another look at college test score ranges. Here is some advice on how to view the numbers. [The information applies to the ACT as well.]

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The SAT is only one factor in college admissions Yes, the SAT matters, but admissions officers care about the whole package—high school grades, rigor of courses taken, extra curriculars including volunteer work and employment, the essay, recommendations and any unique talent or skill your child possesses. Applicants who have an SAT score well below the average may not make the initial cut, but those on the borderline will be worth a look if the other components of their application rise above.

Test score ranges are just that On their admissions site, most colleges list an average or median test score, usually of the previously admitted class, to help applicants figure out if this is a reach, match or safety school. When viewing these numbers, remember the terms “average” and “median” mean the middle. For a basic explanation of what SAT score ranges mean, check out Allen Grove’s post on on this topic.

The most competitive colleges require the highest SAT scores This fact shouldn’t surprise anyone. The point is, these colleges need criteria to eliminate students from their too-large pool of high-achieving applicants. Unfortunately, even  perfect SAT scores don’t guarantee admission to the Ivy Leagues or other top colleges anymore, which is just another indication that test scores aren’t everything.

How to evaluate an SAT score The best way to understand your senior’s score is to view it in the context of the range for the colleges where they will be applying. PrepScholar (Google “prep scholar [college name] sat”) and CollegeBoard, along with each college’s admissions website, provide information on average SAT scores for all the colleges on your teen’s list.

There’s almost always a next time If your child wants to try to do better, especially on one section, the SAT is offered again in November, December and March, which should make it possible to meet application deadlines, although probably not Early Action, for most colleges. Check out the College Board site for registration dates.

Don’t let the SAT make you and your senior crazy This segment by Eric Westervelt for NPR can help put the SAT into perspective for parents and their teens. He sheds some light on “test-optional” colleges, which number about 800 now. These colleges are a good option for a student with lots of positives but who doesn’t perform well on standardized tests.

Take a deep breath. Reread this post if necessary, maybe with your student who’s feeling stressed. Then together review the colleges on their list and decide whether to make any additions or subtractions. Most importantly, make sure they send their scores to all those colleges now (visit the College Board site to learn how).

Share your thoughts on the SAT (and ACT) in the comments section below.


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