When scores start rolling in, high school juniors and seniors either smile or sweat.

If your high school student has recently received their SAT or ACT scores, your family is reviewing those scores and taking another look at college test score ranges. Here is some advice on how to view the numbers.

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The SAT/ACT is only one factor in college admissions Yes, the SAT/ACT matters, but admissions officers care about the whole package—high school grades, rigor of courses taken, extra curriculars including volunteer work and employment, the application essay, recommendations and any unique talent or skill your child possesses. Applicants who have an SAT/ACT 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, many colleges list an average or median test score, usually of the previously admitted class, to help applicants figure out if this is a reach, target or safety school. You can also search a college’s website for “Common Data Set” and access the information that way. 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 About.com on this topic.

The most competitive colleges require the highest SAT/ACT 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 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/ACT 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. CollegeBoard (for SAT) and PrepScholar (Google “prep scholar [college name] sat” or act) provide information on average 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/ACT are offered several times a year. With options throughout the fall and early spring, it’s possible to meet most application deadlines. Check out the College Board site for SAT registration dates and the ACT site for their registration dates.

Don’t let the SAT/ACT make you and your student crazy This segment by Eric Westervelt for NPR can help put the SAT/ACT into perspective for parents and their teens. He sheds some light on “test-optional” colleges, which number about 1,000 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 important, make sure they send their scores to all those colleges now by visiting the College Board site  or the ACT site to learn how.

Share your thoughts on the SAT/ACT in the comments section below.

 

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