Throw your standardized testing plan out the window. COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives, and it has also shed some light on the importance of standardized testing in college admissions. While most universities went “test optional” this year, meaning students were not required to submit SAT or ACT scores with their college applications, the majority of admitted students at highly selective colleges still submitted test scores: 63% of admitted students at Amherst submitted test scores, as did 58% at Boston University and 66% at Davidson. How can you determine whether to submit test scores with your application?
Tip #1: Understand what “test-optional” means
Test optional means exactly what you think: test scores are optional. If you are not happy with your SAT or ACT scores, you do not need to send them. Instead, colleges will focus on the other aspects of your application: grades, curriculum, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and essays. However, it’s important that these other factors paint a compelling picture of your preparedness and fit with the college. If you’re vying for admission to some of the most competitive colleges, your application and supporting materials need to be tremendously strong.
Tip #2: Take the SAT or ACT
Even if standardized tests aren’t your thing, it’s still wise to take the SAT or ACT. This gives you the power to either opt in or out of test-optional admissions. Remember, only 30-40% of admitted students to some of the most selective colleges were successful without test scores! Having those SAT or ACT scores and being strategic about where to send them should be part of your college application plan. But you can’t submit standardized test scores you don’t have!
Sidenote: Unsure whether to take the SAT or ACT — check out this AC College Consulting presentation (College Admission Testing 101) that provides insight on the type of student who does best on the SAT or ACT.
Tip #3: Don’t submit test scores if they fall below the middle-50% range
Every admissions counselor with whom I spoke gave this advice: “your students should not send test scores unless they fall into our middle-50% ranges.” The middle-50% ranges are published test score ranges that give prospective students data on admitted students for a particular college. 25% of students admitted to the college score above the range, and 25% fall below; 50% of admitted students’ scores fall into that range. For example, the University of Rochester’s middle-50% range for the ACT is 30-34. If your ACT score is 30 or higher, you should send your score to the University of Rochester.
Tip #4: Be strategic
As you build your college application list, make sure you have the right mix of colleges: 2-3 “reach” schools, 3-4 “likelies”, and 2-3 “sure things” based on your academic profile and the colleges’ published middle-50% ranges. You’ll probably go test-optional for your reach schools (unless your scores fall into/above their middle-50% ranges), while you will submit SAT or ACT scores for likelies and sure things. Have a plan and be strategic when it comes to your college applications.
Interested in chatting with a former Associate Dean of Admission and Director of Selection?
With degrees from Duke, Miami, and Rice, as well as 15 years of selective college admissions experience, please consider Emily Nevinger a resource as you approach the college admissions process. Emily can set up virtual appointments to discuss what is important about your college search and offer strategic, personalized advice about your application process. Contact Emily for details.
Thursday, May 13th @ 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Drop-In Office Hours via Zoom
Navigating the college admissions process can be daunting, especially if this is your first time, or even if it has been a few years. Join Emily Nevinger, Allendale Columbia School’s College Advising Consultant, for a virtual, informal chat about AC’s student-centered approach to the college search process. Emily will answer your questions about timelines, college applications, financial aid, and more. Zoom Registration Link
Tuesday, June 8th @ 6:30 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Planning Ahead: Standardized Tests, Financial Aid, and Scholarships
Join Emily Nevinger, AC’s College Advising Consultant, in this interactive workshop ideal for all students and families nearing the college application process. Emily will offer suggestions on testing strategies that work best for your student, the ideal time to take the SAT or ACT, and whether “test optional” schools should be on your radar. Additionally, Emily will provide tips for navigating the financial aid and scholarship processes, a topic all families should consider as they build their college lists. Attendees will leave with an understanding of how to best position themselves for success based on their particular needs. Zoom Registration Link
3-Day Workshop: August 18, 19, 20 @ 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Common Application Bootcamp
Get a headstart on your college application process and finish your Common Application (including the essay!) before senior year. Your instructors — Emily Nevinger and Kristin Cocquyt — have over 30 years of admissions experience with highly selective colleges and will work with you to prepare a comprehensive and compelling Common Application that can be used to apply to nearly 1,000 colleges and universities. Registration through AC Summer Programs
Posted in: AC College Consulting, Events & Workshops
Seven is a lucky number for many, and it’s also the perfect number of colleges to apply to. As you build your college application list, make sure you have the right mix of colleges: 2-3 “reach” schools, 3-4 “likelies”, and 2-3 “sure things” based on your academic profile and the colleges’ published middle-50% ranges. However, even if your academic profile falls into the colleges’ standardized test and grade point average ranges for admitted students, nothing is guaranteed! Here are a few more tips for creating your ideal college application list…
Find Your Major
You do not need to decide right now what you will do for the rest of your life. However, it is good to include on your college application list schools that offer coursework, majors, minors, or concentrations in academic areas that pique your interest. It sometimes helps to think about your favorite classes and teachers in high school — let that help guide your college search as you narrow down options. If you are undecided, make sure you apply to colleges with a variety of academic options. Seek out colleges that are doing cutting-edge research that excites you. Look for faculty who remind you of your favorite teachers.
Your college application list should be your own. Ultimately, you will attend college for the next four years. While I recommend you consult with parents, friends, and advisors, this is your college application journey — own the process. You should only apply to colleges where you can picture yourself being happy and intellectually-fulfilled. If school spirit and game days are not your thing, skip those colleges known for diehard fans and top-notch athletics. If it’s not your dream to attend an Ivy-league school, let it be known. Just because a certain college worked for your cousin or parent, it doesn’t mean it’s your perfect match, too.
Consider the colleges you may know best! Having attended Duke University, which is only 30 minutes away from my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, I definitely appreciated my familiarness with the area and the proximity to my family… but I also made it clear to my parents that they could not just drop by whenever they felt like it! Don’t fall into the trap of overlooking some great local colleges. There are many benefits to attending college closer to home: you may enjoy preferential treatment in the admissions process by being a local applicant, not to mention some financial perks — think about the money you’ll save by not having to purchase plane tickets during school breaks! Even though you’re close to home, you can still have college experience that feels like you’re miles away.
Don’t limit yourself based on geography. If you dream of attending college among the palm trees of California, you should absolutely include some west coast schools in your college application list. In fact, some majors are dependent on their location. For example, it’s hard (but not impossible) to study marine biology without proximity to the ocean. Make sure you do your research to find colleges that are attracting scholars and students equally excited about your interests, regardless of their location.
Reach for the Stars
You will regret not applying to your dream school. Even if your test scores and grades fall well outside published mid-50% ranges, you will always wonder “what could have been?” Just make sure you have a few more realistic options to balance out your big dreams. Also spend time getting the application and essays for your dream school just right, to make sure you’re giving yourself every advantage during the admissions process.
Narrow Things Down
The more you narrow things down on the front end, the less angst you’ll have at the end of the process. Applying to more than 10 colleges is delaying the decision-making process. By narrowing things down on the front end, you’ll have an easier spring when you receive admission decisions and ultimately decide where to enroll. Plus, refining the college application list early means you won’t have to write application essays for school that you’re not seriously considering.
Interested in chatting with a former Associate Dean of Admission and Director of Selection?
With degrees from Duke, Miami, and Rice, as well as 15 years of selective college admissions experience, please consider Emily Nevinger a resource as you compile your college application list. Emily can set up virtual appointments to discuss what is important about your college search and offer strategic, personalized advice about your application process.
Emily NevingerEmily is Associate Director of Admissions and College Advising Consultant at Allendale Columbia School. After serving as the Interim College Advisor in Fall 2018, Emily took on a role to offer students and families outside AC with guidance in the college admissions process. Her role has since expanded to the Admissions team, where she helps prospective families learn more about AC's innovative education. Emily joined AC from Emory University where she directed the selection process for more than 20,000 freshmen candidates each year. She started working at the university level in 2003 and was a senior member of the admission committees for University of Miami, Emory University, and UNC Chapel Hill. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from Duke University, a Master of Higher Education Administration and Enrollment Management from the University of Miami, and a Certificate in College Access Counseling from Rice University.
Posted in: AC College Consulting, College Advising News, Eleventh Grade, Highlights, Twelfth Grade, Upper School