The Importance of SAT Scores for College Admissions

by Van Thompson

    The SAT can be a daunting test, particularly if you experience test anxiety or struggle with certain aspects of the test, such as algebra or analogies. Although the SAT and similar standardized tests continue to play a role in college admissions, colleges look at the big picture when deciding whether to accept students and a low or mediocre SAT score does not necessarily mean you can't go to the college of your dreams. For example, the Harvard College Office of Admissions emphasizes that it has no minimum SAT score and that is uses the SAT as only one indication of academic potential.

    SAT Weighting

    While most schools, particularly competitive ones, consider SAT scores, different schools weight the scores differently. Some consider SAT no more important than extracurricular activities, while others weight SAT scores even more significantly than grades. For example, the University of Georgia emphasizes that it weights GPA and the rigor of your curriculum at two to three times the rate it weights the SAT.

    Alternative Testing

    The SAT is just one standardized test. Many schools use the ACT as an alternative to the SAT and a few require this test instead of the SAT. If you struggled with the SAT, taking the ACT might be a better option that can improve your standardized test scores. University of California schools, for example, allow students to take either the SAT or the ACT.

    Other Admissions Factors

    Even if your college weighs SAT scores heavily, your SAT is just one portion of your college admissions packet. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, states that it looks for excellence in several areas and that test scores are just one component of an application packet. Grades, extracurricular activities, achievement in sports, arts or music, community service, teacher recommendations and challenging classes can all increase your likelihood of being admitted. If you're worried about your SAT scores, it may be better to spend your time boosting your grades, developing strong relationships with your teachers and excelling in your areas of strength.

    Improving Test Scores

    Most schools take either the highest SAT score or an average of your SAT scores, which means taking the test twice could benefit you, if you improve your scores. Contact the admissions office to find out which SAT scores they take and how they calculate your ultimate score. If your school takes the highest score, taking the test numerous times can help you. SAT preparation classes, private tutoring and basic test-taking skills can all improve your score on the second or third try.

    About the Author

    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.

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