ASK THE EXPERTS: ACT vs SAT

The redesigned SAT debuted a year ago, which means that high school students can now choose between the standardized tests of the “new” SAT and ACT.

But which to choose?

As part of our ongoing series of “Ask the Experts,” we surveyed top test prep tutors from around the country, and asked them a series of questions about these two tests. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which test to take, and each student is a unique test-taker. But by asking the right questions, we can provide you with the proper tools to make an informed decision.

Here are our expert test prep tutors:

  • Advantage Testing, Alex Freedman, Director of Connecticut office and senior tutor in Manhattan. Advantage has 16 offices throughout the US, and an office in Paris.
  • Applerouth, Jed Applerouth, Founder. Applerouth has offices in NYC, DC, LA, Atlanta, Seattle, Savannah, Chicago.
  • Peter Baumtest prep tutor in NYC and San Francisco.
  • Compass Education Group, Matt Steiner, Senior Director of Outreach. Compass has offices in Northern California and Southern California.
  • Inspirica, Lisa Jacobson, Founder and CEO. Inspirica has offices in NYC, Boston and Philadelphia.
  • Phyllis Jencius, test prep tutor on Long Island for verbal content.
  • Bill Ma, test prep tutor on Long Island for math content, author of CliffNotes SAT CramPlanCliffNotes ACT CramPlan, 5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus AB and BC.
  • Signet Education, Jay Bacrania, Co-founder and CEO. Signet has offices in Cambridge MA and NYC.
  • Summit Educational Group, Drew Heilpern, Brand Ambassador, offices in Connecticut/New York and Massachusetts.
  • TestTakers, Frank Pomilla, President and Founder, with 11 offices throughout the Greater New York area.

Below are the questions we asked, and the responses of our expert tutors. In some cases, tutors have a consensus, and in others, there is a wide range of opinion. We hope this is helpful as you evaluate what course of action is best for your needs! 

What are the differences between the ACT and New SAT? 

OVERALL DIFFERENCES:
  • The SAT and the ACT have a similar structure and cover similar materials.
  • The SAT questions are trickier and require more complex thought.
  • The ACT is more straightforward, but much faster with more time pressure.

In general, the SAT and the ACT have a similar structure and cover similar materials; however tutors agree that the questions on the SAT are trickier and require more complex thought, while the ACT is a much faster test with much more time pressure. As TestTakers’ Frank Pomilla describes “An exam is considered to be ‘speeded’ if the score significantly depends on the rate at which tester answers the questions. Simply put, the ACT is much more speeded than the SAT.

According to Drew Heilpern of Summit Education Group: “Generally speaking, students feel that the ACT questions are more straightforward than those on the SAT, but the difficulty stems from the fast pace of the ACT. Many students walk out of an ACT test thinking that they understood what the questions were asking but wishing that they had another 5 or 10 minutes per section.” As a result, Peter Baum explains, “there is more advantage to getting extra time on the ACT than on the SAT.” He recommends that students who are allotted extra time take the ACT.

The chart below shows major differences between the two tests:

 

  SAT Exam ACT Exam
Test Structure

Reading (65 min)

Writing & Language (35 min)

Math (55 min) – With calculator

Math (25 min) – No calculator

Optional Essay (50 min)

Reading (35 min)

English (45 min)

Math (60 min) – With calculator

Science (35 min)

Optional Essay/Writing (40 min)

Total Length

3 hours (without essay)

3 hours, 50 minutes (with essay)

2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay)

3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)

Test Style

Questions are evidence- and context-based in an effort to focus on real-world situations and multi-step problem-solving

Questions increase in difficulty level as you move through that question type in a section

Straightforward

Questions may be long but are usually less difficult to decipher

Difficulty level of the questions is random

Reading Content

5 reading passages

Relevant words in context

Grammar & usage

4 reading passages

Grammar & usage

Math Content

Arithmetic

Problem-solving & data analysis

Heart of algebra

Geometry

Trigonometry

Formulas provided

Calculator allowed for 38  the questions, including advanced (TI-89)

Arithmetic

Algebra I and II

Functions

Geometry

Trigonometry

No formulas provided

Calculator allowed for all sections, but not advanced (such as TI-89)

Science Content None Tests critical thinking skills, not specific science knowledge
Optional Essays Tests your comprehension of a source text Tests how well you evaluate and analyze complex issues
Scoring

Evidence-Based Reading & Writing: 200-800

Math: 200-800

Composite SAT score is the sum of the two  section scores ranging from 400-1600

* You do not lose points for incorrect answers

English: 1-36

Math: 1-36

Reading: 1-36

Science: 1-36

Composite ACT score is the average of your scores on the four sections ranging from 1-36

* You do not lose points for incorrect answers

Popularity

Tends to be more popular with private schools and schools on the East and West coasts

* Every four-year college in the US accepts SAT

Tends to be more popular with public schools and schools in the Midwest and South

* Every four-year college in the US accepts ACT

More Information www.collegeboard.com www.act.org

 

READING:
  • Both tests require reading passages and answering questions about their content.
  • SAT passages are harder – harder vocabulary and sentence structures.
  • SAT questions are harder – require understanding author’s intent.
  • ACT is easier, but faster – requires quickly finding details in the passage.

The reading sections of the two tests are structurally very similar; both require students to read written passages and then answer questions about their content. But again, the SAT section is generally harder, while the ACT requires students to answer the questions more quickly.

As Jed Applerouth of Applerouth Tutors explains, “SAT reading passages typically have a higher level of vocabulary and more sophisticated sentence structures. Particular SAT passages, frequently pulled from historical documents or American or English literature, are significantly harder than anything found on the ACT.”

SAT questions also require more in-depth understanding, requiring students to analyze the author’s intent, while the ACT typically requires the student to quickly locate details in the passage. An example of the difference in difficulty is provided by Peter Baum: “The classic SAT question is inferential – for instance, ‘Why did they mention dinosaurs in line 57?’ On the ACT, it’s more direct but there’s no line reference, ‘What did the author say about dinosaurs?’ ”

Unsurprisingly, the ACT reading section is also much more “speeded” than the SAT. As Drew Heilpern summarizes, the SAT Reading Test consists of 5 passages, typically 500-750 words each, with roughly 10 questions per section, providing students an average of 13 minutes per section. The ACT test consists of 4 passages, typically 700-900 words each, and also roughly 10 questions per section. However, even though the ACT passages are longer, students have on average only 8.5 minutes per passage. Also, as several of the tutors pointed out, unlike the SAT, the ACT questions do not appear in any order, requiring a greater ability to skim and scan. As Heilpern explains, “For most students, it is a total sprint from start to finish.”

If students have not had a lot of experience taking faster tests, they may initially score poorly on ACT practice tests. However, as Phyllis Jencius notes, they should not be discouraged, because speed can be improved with practice! She advises: “A low reading score on an initial practice ACT test should not automatically discourage students from taking this exam. A tutor should be able to discern whether the score is the result of time pressure rather than the understanding of the material. If so… [reading] under time constraints while maintaining accuracy is a skill that can often be taught.”

WRITING:
  • Writing section is the most similar – both involve reading a passage and then answering questions about errors in it.
  • SAT passages are harder; ACT passages are shorter and written at high school level.
  • SAT passages require understanding of author’s intent.
  • ACT section is much faster.

Tutors agree the writing sections are nearly identical, requiring students to “answer questions about specific errors in passages,” says Jay Bacrania. According to Alex Freedman of Advantage Testing, “Both test fundamental concepts of grammar, idiom, diction, and clarity of expression.” However, the writing section also follows the same trends in terms of difficulty and speed. The SAT passages typically resemble the reading passages in complexity, while the ACT passages are written at a much simpler level. According to Drew Heilpern, “The ACT English Test has passages that are shorter in length and resemble essays that might be written by a high school student. On the other hand, the SAT passages are well-written essays that, similar to the Reading passages, range in complexity from grades 9-10 to early college.” The SAT passages require a deeper understanding of the author’s intent, while the ACT questions are more straightforward, dealing with basic grammar.

And as always, the ACT section is much faster. As Frank Pomilla explains, “On the ACT, students are allotted 45 minutes to answer 75 questions; on the SAT, it’s 35 minutes for 44 questions. That’s 33% more time per SAT question than ACT question.”

MATH:
  • SAT has calculator and no calculator section; ACT allows calculator (but no TI-89).
  • SAT covers more limited topics (more focus on algebra and functions).
  • ACT covers wider range (more focus on geometry and trigonometry).
  • SAT is more conceptual and more difficult (math concepts in combination, interpretation of math).
  • ACT is more straightforward but faster-paced.

There are a few basic structural differences between the math portion of the two tests. The SAT Math Test is divided into sections: a calculator section (including advanced calculators like the TI-89) and a non-calculator section. The SAT also includes two types of questions: multiple-choice and grid-in. The ACT, on the other hand, consists of a single section, all multiple-choice, with a calculator allowed (but not a TI-89).

Another difference is in the scope of topics – the SAT covers a more limited set of topics, with a big focus on algebra, functions, and data analysis, while the ACT covers a wider array of topics, with a big focus on geometry and trigonometry, and also touches on more advanced topics like matrices and logarithms.

Similar to the reading and writing sections, the SAT math section is more difficult, requiring a deeper understanding of the topics, but the ACT test is more of a time crunch (students have 38% more time for each SAT math question). As Jed Applerouth explains, “SAT math has a greater reading burden, tests more math concepts in combination, and focuses more on translation and interpretation of math (i.e., math fluency) than upon direct solving.” While some feel the ACT Math has become harder, Matt Steiner of Compass Prep points out that “the perceived ‘hardness’ of ACT Math is less an issue of difficulty; more an issue of familiarity and exposure” with the handful of new topics added.

SCIENCE:
  • ACT has separate science section; SAT has 21 science questions scattered throughout test (no actual science section).
  • Both involve science questions based on passages.
  • Neither tests knowledge of facts; both test understanding of scientific method and experiments, interpretation of charts and graphs.
  • ACT section is more difficult. 

The crucial difference between the science content on the two tests is that the ACT has a separate science section, while the SAT has 21 science-related questions scattered throughout the test. For example, the SAT may include a chart as part of one of the reading passages and consider questions about the chart to be science-related. On the SAT, students receive an “Analysis in Science” score on a 10-40 scale, which combines the science questions from the various sections, but colleges do not look at this separate score. For all intents and purposes, while the SAT includes science-based questions, it does not have a science section.

Neither test requires any specific knowledge of scientific facts, but rather tests students’ ability to reason deductively. Students are provided with passages about scientific topics that they may not know much about, and must interpret them to answer the questions. According to Matt Steiner, “ACT Science is simply another Reading section disguised by science-y flourishes: charts and graphs, descriptions of experiments, and other quantitative elements.”

However, tutors agree that the ACT science section is more difficult than the SAT science questions, requiring a higher level of data interpretation and understanding of experimental design. According to Frank Pomilla, the ACT tests “an ability to understand graphs and tables, and to analyze the design and results of hypothetical scientific experiments.” Drew Heilpern notes that as students read the passages, it will help them to consider the following types of questions: “What scientific question is being asked? What was the experimental design? What was the data that was collected? What conclusions did the author draw?”

And as you’ve probably come to understand by this point, students must go through the ACT Science section very quickly.

ESSAY:
  • Both offer optional essay; good idea to sit for the essay anyway.
  • SAT provides a written essay; students analyze the author’s argument.
  • ACT provides three perspectives on an issue; students defend their own perspective.  

Both the SAT and the ACT offer optional essay sections. According to Matt Steiner, “only 10% of the top 360 colleges in the US require students to submit their SAT or ACT Essay results.” However most tutors recommend that students sit for the essay anyway in order to have the option to apply to a wider selection of colleges.

Both tests require students to analyze a rhetorical argument, however there are basic differences. “In essence,” according to Alex Freedman, “the ACT essay asks students to construct an argument, while the SAT asks students to analyze an argument.” As Phyllis Jencius explains, the 50-minute SAT section “provides a written essay and asks students to analyze it using textual evidence to determine how the writer effectively builds his or her argument.” Drew Heilpern adds, “It is a rhetorical analysis essay where students are not asked for their opinion on the topic, but rather to analyze what rhetorical devices the author used and their effectiveness.”

The 40-minute ACT on the other hand, according to Jay Bacrania of Signet, “presents a societal issue with three different perspectives on the issue and asks students to analyze the problem and defend a perspective of their own (which can be wholly or partially taken from one of the given perspectives, or not at all).” As noted out by Lisa Jacobson of Inspirica, “Consequently, the student need not get into too much depth about any one opinion… The SAT requires more depth and complexity… [and] is generally more challenging.”

As Peter Baum advises: “For a more literal student, the SAT essay, which is analyzing how an author made his or her points, is a better fit. For a more free-thinking student, the ACT essay allows him or her to find a path to individual expression.”

What kind of student would be better served by taking either the ACT or SAT?

  • Colleges accept either test and don’t have a preference.
  • Best strategy is to take both practice tests and compare scores.
  • SAT is better for more complex thinkers and slower test takers.
  • ACT better for more straightforward thinkers and faster test takers.
  • SAT is better for strong readers; ACT is better for strong math students.
  • Best to choose one test and stick with it to maximize prep.

The testing landscape has evolved considerably in recent years. Only a decade ago, the SAT was more commonly taken by students on the East and West coasts, while the ACT was more popular in the Midwest. Additionally, the most selective colleges expressed a preference for the SAT. But, “nowadays, both are accepted at all universities and are equally regarded, so students should prepare for and take the test on which they will receive the higher score,” according to Alex Freedman.

Some tutors feel that due to the similarities between the SAT and the ACT, students frequently will get comparable scores on the two tests. In this case, the decision comes down to personal preference. As Peter Baum emphasizes, “there’s at least a 70% overlap between the tests at this point. You’re not going to find many students who score much higher on one than on the other.”

However based on the general differences between the tests (especially complexity of the SAT vs. speed of the ACT) certain students may fare better on one or the other. Tutors are in agreement that the best way to figure out which test is for you is very simple: take full practice tests of both, then compare your scores using the College Board’s concordance table, which will tell you exactly which scores are equivalent on the two tests.

Though the tests are similar, tutors do have some thoughts on the type of students who may prefer one or the other. According to Jay Bacrania, “Generally speaking, the SAT is well suited for students who are good at more complicated problem solving but are slower test takers. The ACT on the other hand is often good for students who like to see more predictable, straightforward problems and are good at being efficient and accurate while under time pressure.” Additionally, according to Alex Freedman of Advantage, “students who are put off by the ACT’s Science section might be better off taking the SAT.”

Several tutors noted that the SAT is more reading-heavy than the ACT so strong readers might prefer the SAT, while the math on the ACT is more advanced, so stronger math students might prefer the ACT.

Lisa Jacobson of Inspirica adds that test anxiety may play a role. She explains that due to the difference in pace, the SAT may be a better fit for “one who has trouble with time, perhaps a little more prone to test anxiety. One who works more methodically and thoroughly.”

While some students choose to take both tests, tutors generally advise picking one test and sticking with it in order to put all of your test prep time into that test. Frank Pomilla notes that, “While the tests are quite similar, there is a disadvantage to splitting time between two exams, when colleges need to see only your best performance on either one.”

 

What is the percentage of your students who take SAT-only, ACT-only, or both?

  • The distribution across tests varies widely across tutors and states.
  • While many opt to take the ACT only, some have shifted back to the SAT.
  • Yet, while there is great variation between the percentages of students taking either test, only a very small percentage currently take both.

The distribution of students taking both tests or just one test varies by tutor, by state, and by historical time frame.

During the period when the SAT overhauled its exam in spring of 2016, many students opted for ACT-only, due to the uncertainty of the new SAT exam and the lack of practice tests issued by the College Board. But in recent times, there is some shifting back to the SAT.

Some states choose to offer either the SAT or ACT as their standard state assessment test for public schools, so this impacts test prep as well. For example, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine and New Hampshire have chosen the SAT as their state-wide assessment test; while Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, and North Carolina have chosen the ACT (among other states).

Finally, tutors’ own philosophy about whether it makes sense to focus on one test or take both tests impacts students’ test prep approach as well. According to Lisa Jacobson, the breakdown includes 37% SAT-only, 62% ACT-only, and less than 1% take both tests. This breakdown is comparable to Signet (about 30% SAT-only, 65% ACT-only, 5% both) and Applerouth (45.3% SAT-only, 49.2% ACT-only and 5.5% both). In contrast, Peter Baum’s split is 55% SAT-only, 25% ACT-only, and 20% both. And Frank Pomilla notes, “In the New York area, where TestTakers operates, it’s been my experience that the SAT is still the more popular exam.”

 

Is there a maximum number of either SAT or ACT tests that you recommend to your students? In other words, do you find that scores tend to plateau after a certain number of tests?

  • No maximum, but tutors recommend taking the test 2-3 times.

Most tutors agree that the sweet spot for the number of tests is 2-3. Of course every student is different so this should not be used as a hard and fast rule. According to Peter Baum, “My breakdown by number of times is 35% 1, 55% 2, 10% 3. There is, of course, selection bias involved since the kids who ace it the first time don’t take it again.”

Beyond three tests, it is rare to see a significant increase in scores, and small increases may take so much extra prep that it becomes a poor use of the student’s time. Alex Freedman states, “If scores do begin to plateau at a certain point, for example, our analysis of the data and our assessment of the student’s progress will indicate whether the plateau suggests an approaching ceiling, or whether there is still room for improvement. Of course, we also take into consideration the student’s personal goals.”

 

When do you feel is the ideal time for students to begin test prep for the SAT or ACT?

  • Tutors recommend spring of sophomore year or summer before junior year.
  • Best to start prep before heavy work load junior year.
  • Aim for first test date in late fall or early spring of junior year, with cushion of senior year for retests.

Most tutors recommend that students begin to prepare during the spring of their sophomore year, while some recommend the summer between sophomore and junior year. The advantage of beginning before junior year is that students usually have more time for test prep before adding their junior year schoolwork.   As Jed Applerouth notes: “The right time is determined by the most spacious time in a student’s schedule.  Don’t begin prep during your most intense time for academics/activities.”

One point to be aware of is that students may not have learned everything they need to know until the end of sophomore year. As Frank Pomilla points out, “I don’t generally recommend starting during sophomore year, as the student might not have had all the math required for either the SAT or ACT; for virtually all students, it’s just too early.”

Beginning test prep the summer before junior year or earlier would typically allow students to aim for a first test date in late fall or early spring of junior year, with a cushion of senior year for retests if necessary.

 

Regular Admissions Trends for the Class of 2021

It was another exciting year in regular decision college admissions! As a follow-up to our previous blog on Early Admissions Trends for the Class of 2021, here’s an in-depth review of this year’s regular decision trends. To assist applicants who will be applying this fall, our analysis will conclude with a helpful list of tips for crafting your “best-fit” college list.

Rising Applicant Numbers, Lower Acceptance Rates

This year, regular decision acceptance rates tended to either hold steady or drop slightly. As in past years, highly sought-after private and public universities continue to receive more and more applications, offer lower admit rates, and fill more of their freshman class through early admissions.

Many schools had a record-breaking year of applications, including Brown, Georgetown, Northwestern, Princeton, UVA, and Washington University in St. Louis. WashU has seen a 4% increase in applicants since last year and a 28% rise since 2008.

Many of the country’s most selective institutions (with overall admit rates already under 15%) became even more competitive over the past three years. For example, Duke dropped from 11% to 9%, Northwestern fell from 12.9% to 9%, Swarthmore declined from 16.8% to 10.2%, and Williams decreased from 18.2% to 14.6%. Stanford has the lowest admit rate at just 4.6%.

This year, Brown, Cornell, Duke, Princeton, Stanford, and UPenn all reported record-low admit rates. Over the past ten years, Swarthmore has experienced a 59% increase in applications and only a 7% increase in acceptances, which has led to their declining acceptance rates. Michael Mills, Associate Provost for Northwestern University enrollment, said the highly-selective process of applying to elite colleges and universities can cause stressed-out high school students to send out more applications. Increased applications, in turn, make admissions even more selective, further feeding the cycle.

According to Richard Shaw, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Stanford University, these ultra-low admit rates are the product of several factors, including top students applying to many more schools, and higher demand across several demographics (including international applicants). Beyond the simple fact that high school graduation rates have been steadily increasing, U.S. News also attributes higher applicant numbers to the Common Application and other online admissions processes, which most schools have adopted. Universities also use innovative ways to market themselves to prospective applicants, especially through social media.

Early vs. Regular Acceptance Rates for the Class of 2019 through 2021

College Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2021* Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2021 Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020* Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020 Regular Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019* Early Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019
Amherst College (ED) n/a n/a 12.2% 39.6% 12.4% 35.6%
Bowdoin College (ED I) n/a 25% 11.6% 33.7% n/a 31%
Brown University (ED) 6.8% 21.9% 7.6% 22% 7.2% 20.3%
Claremont McKenna College (ED) 8% 31% 7% n/a 9% 27%
Columbia University (ED) Only releases overall acceptance rates, not early and regular admissions rate data.
Cornell University (ED) 10.8% 25.6% 12.5% 27.4% 13.7% 26.2%
Dartmouth College (ED) 8.5% 27.8% 8.9% 26% 8.8% 26%
Duke University (ED) 7.3% 24.5% 8.7% 23.5% 9.4% 26%
Georgetown University (REA) 17.4% 11.9% n/a 13% n/a 13%
Harvard University (SCEA) 3.4% 14.7% 3.4% 14.8% 3.2% 16.5%
Johns Hopkins University (ED) 10.3% 30.5% 10.1% 30.3% 11% 28.9%
MIT (EA) 6.6% 7.8% 7.4% 8.4% 7.1% 9.6%
Middlebury College (ED I) 16.7% 51% 12.7% 53.1% 14.7% 45.3%
Northwestern University (ED) 7.2% 26% 8.4% 35% 10.8% 36.2%
Pomona College (ED) 6.8% 21% n/a 19.4% n/a 19%
Princeton University (SCEA) 4.3% 15.4% 4.4% 18.5% 4.9% 19.9%
Rice University (ED) n/a 21% 15% 23% 15.6% 20.4%
Stanford University (SCEA) n/a** n/a** 3.6% 9.5% 3.9% 10.2%
University of Notre Dame (REA) 15.7% 24.4% 13.8% 30.3% 16.2% 29.8%
University of Chicago (EA) Only releases overall acceptance rates, not early and regular admissions rate data.
University of Pennsylvania (ED) 6.8% 22% 7% 23.2% 7.5% 24%
University of Virginia (EA) 24.6% 29% 28.8% 28.9% 26.6% 30.2%
Vanderbilt University (ED) 8.6% 23.6% 8.8% 23.6% 9.5% 22.5%
Washington Univ. in St. Louis (ED) Only releases overall acceptance rate, not give early and regular admissions rate data.
Williams College (ED) 12.7% 35% 15% 42% 14.5% 41%
Yale University (SCEA) 5% 17.1% 4.4% 17% 4.7% 16%

*Regular admission acceptance rate calculations do not include early admission deferral numbers.

** In a break from tradition, Stanford did not release early admissions statistics.

Overall Acceptance Rates for the Class of 2018 through 2021

College  Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2021 Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2020 Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2019 Overall Acceptance Rate for Class of 2018
Amherst College (ED) n/a 13.7% 13.7% 13%
Bowdoin College (ED I) 13.4% 14.3% 14.9% 14.9%
Brown University (ED) 8.3% 9% 8.5% 8.6%
California Institute of Technology (EA) n/a 7.9% 9% 9%
Claremont McKenna College (ED) 10.4% 9.4% 11% 10%
Columbia University (ED) 5.8% 6% 6.1% 6.94%
Cornell University (ED) 12.5% 14% 14.9% 14%
Dartmouth College (ED) 10.4% 10.5% 10.3% 11.5%
Duke University (ED) 9% 10.4% 11% 11%
Georgetown University (REA) 15.4% 16.4% 16.4% 16.6%
Harvard University (SCEA) 5.2% 5.2% 5.3% 5.9%
Johns Hopkins University (ED) 11.8% 11.5% 12.4% 15%
Lehigh University (ED) 24.7% 26.3% 30% 34%
MIT (EA) 7.1% 7.8% 8% 7.7%
Middlebury College (ED I) 19.7% 16% 17% 17.3%
Northwestern University (ED) 9% 10.7% 13.1% 12.9%
Pomona College (ED) 8.2% 9.1% 10.3% 12.2%
Princeton University (SCEA) 6.1% 6.46% 6.99% 7.28%
Rice University (ED) n/a 15% 16% 14.1%
Stanford University (SCEA) 4.6% 4.7% 5.05% 5.07%
Swarthmore College (ED) 10.2% 12.5% 12.2% 16.8%
UC – Berkeley (EA) n/a 14.8% 17% 17%
University of Chicago (EA) n/a** 7.6% 7.8% 8.4%
University of Notre Dame (REA) 18.4% 18.3% 19.7% 20.8%
University of Pennsylvania (ED) 9.15% 9.4% 9.9% 9.9%
University of Virginia (EA) 27% 29.9% 28.5% 28.9%
USC (No early program) 16% 16.5% 17.5% 17.8%
Vanderbilt University (ED) 10.3% 10.5% n/a 12%
Washington Univ. in St. Louis (ED) 16% 16.2% 16.7% 17.1%
Williams College (ED) 14.6% 17.3% 16.8% 18.2%
Yale University (SCEA) 6.9% 6.3% 6.5% 6.3%

**In a break from tradition, the University of Chicago did not release this year’s applicant numbers or acceptance rates.

Larger Percentages of Freshman Classes Filled with Early Applicants

Some schools continue to admit large portions of the freshman class through early admissions, making the regular admissions cycle even more competitive. More students tend to apply through regular decision, so they are competing for fewer remaining positions in the class.

As a reminder, early decision is binding; universities are guaranteed the applicants’ attendance, as compared with early action, which is non-binding and allows students until May 1 to decide. As a result, colleges with early decision programs tend to admit a higher percentage of early applicants, who have demonstrated such strong interest, and their binding commitment helps increase admissions yield for the incoming class.

This year, schools that admitted 40% to 50% of their incoming class through their early decision program include Dartmouth, WilliamsDukeUniversity of PennsylvaniaNorthwestern, and Middlebury College.

Expanding Enrollment

Some schools are planning to accommodate increased applications by expanding enrollment. Lehigh, PrincetonStanfordUVAWashington University in St. Louis, and Yale all have strategic plans to increase incoming class size over several years.

Yale has admitted its largest incoming freshman class in school history (15% larger than recent classes), as the new residential colleges of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin are scheduled to open in the fall of 2017. Dean of Yale College, Jonathan Holloway, said one of the administration’s top priorities is preparing for the larger student body. Over the next four years, Yale plans to increase undergraduate enrollment from 5,400 to 6,200 students. “This expansion touches on every aspect of learning, including teaching, facilities, and financial aid.”

Lehigh implemented The Path to Prominence plan to expand and upgrade the campus, in order to accommodate an increase of the freshman class by 1,000 students over the next seven years. The new College of Health and construction of new dorms are part of this plan.

Stanford University has applied for county permits to accommodate campus expansion for class size growth of 100 more students per year, until the year 2035. In the fall of 2015, 6,994 undergraduates were enrolled at Stanford, and by 2035, this number is projected to increase to 8,785 undergraduates, which is 25% growth over 20 years.

Increasing Diversity

Increasing the diversity of incoming classes has become a top priority for the admissions departments at many schools. This includes international applicants, students from varying socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and first-generation college students. Schools are seeking top-quality students from diverse backgrounds through a variety of programs, including QuestBridge, the KIPP Foundation, and A Better Chance.

Many schools are committed to increasing diversity and the makeup of their admitted applicant pool demonstrates this goal. Schools with high percentages of students of color in the admitted class include Brown (47%), Cornell (52.5%), Dartmouth (51%), Princeton (53.4%), and Williams (50%).

Some schools have also made international diversity a priority as well. This year, Dartmouth accepted 38% more students from foreign countries, the largest international cohort in the school’s history. About half of the accepted international students will be offered need-based financial aid.

Delaying Admission

More and more schools are offering delayed admission to incoming freshmen, offering spring acceptances or asking the students to begin the following fall.

Middlebury anticipates that about 100 students will matriculate in February 2018 as members of the Class of 2021. This year, Cornell admitted 60 students to the First-Year Spring Admission (FYSA) program, which was established in 2015 to increase access to a Cornell education. Hamilton aims to enroll about 40 first-year students in their spring admission program each year. This allows Hamilton to offer admission to additional strong applicants, while also filling spots created by current students who are studying abroad during the spring semester.

Princeton offers a different kind of option for students accepted for fall entry. The Bridge Year Program “allows incoming first-year students to spend a tuition-free year engaging in international service work abroad in Bolivia, China, India, Indonesia or Senegal.” This year, up to 35 incoming freshman are expected to participate.

 Withdrawn Acceptances

This year, there have been several instances of highly selective schools rescinding acceptances due to lower grades or offensive behavior. One widely publicized incident involved 10 students whose Harvard acceptances were revoked after it was discovered that the individuals had participated in the posting of offensive memes to social media.

Withdrawn acceptances are still the exception and not the norm, but students should be aware of the conditions that have caused revoked admissions and how to avoid this situation. For more information, see our blog, Keeping Your College Acceptance.

Tips for Future Applicants

Demonstrate interest. In a competitive admissions climate increasingly concerned with yield, demonstrating interest is more important than ever. Therefore, apply to 10-12 colleges (a manageable number) so that you can visit all of the schools in which you are interested. When you visit, register with the admissions reception desk. Many schools track visits, and see this as the strongest possible way to demonstrate interest.  If you are applying early admissions, visit the college by November 15. If you are applying regular admissions visit in the fall of your senior year, or by February 15 at the latest.

Highlight your heritage. Many universities have made increasing the diversity of incoming classes a top admissions priority. If you identify with an under-represented minority, participate in diversity days hosted by the college, if appropriate.

Think carefully about your college list. When crafting your college list, make sure that you would be happy to attend any school on your list. Do not apply to a university that is not a good fit, or about which you have reservations. Be very realistic about your chances and have grounded expectations. Your college list should have a healthy distribution of reach, target, and safe schools.

Be strategic with early admissions. While early acceptance rates tend to be higher than regular acceptance rates, early admission has become harder to predict. Think carefully and strategically about your early admissions choice.

The college admissions process can be overwhelming, and it may feel difficult to know where to start. At Collegiate Gateway, we are eager to share our expertise and guide you on the path to your “best fit” college. Please feel free to contact us! As always, we’re happy to help!

Sibling Legacy in College Admissions: Does It Exist?

Is there such a thing as sibling legacy?

Broadly, watching your older sibling go through the college process can help you do the same; you’ve observed your sibling’s path through high school and college, tagged along on college visits, and maybe even picked up a few good work habits or new activities.

But what is the precise impact on your chances of being admitted to the same college?

Although much has been written about parent legacy, and colleges capture data on parent legacy, very little is published about sibling legacy. In 2010, Michael Hurwitz, at Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted a landmark study on the impact of having undergraduate legacy on 30 selective colleges. Hurwitz defined “primary legacy” as having at least one parent attend the institution as an undergraduate, and “secondary legacy” as having a sibling, grandparent, aunt, or uncle attend the institution as an undergraduate or graduate, or parent attend as a graduate student.

Hurwitz’s study showed that legacy had a significant impact on admissions rates. For students with no legacy advantage, 41% were admitted ED, and 20% regular or EA. Students with primary legacy had the highest acceptance rate, of 57% of ED applicants and 41% of regular and EA applicants. Students with secondary legacy also exceeded those with no legacy, with 52% accepted ED and 29% accepted regular or EA.

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Legacy plays a much greater role in early admissions than regular admissions, and primary is far stronger than secondary. Hurwitz calculated the “legacy admissions advantage” and found that students with primary legacy have “odds of admission multiplied by 5.5 for regular decision applications,” and 15.5 for early action applications. For secondary legacy, the estimated advantage is comparable for early action applications (chances multiplied by 1.9) and regular decision applications (chances multiplied by 2.0).

 

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Why do colleges value sibling legacy?

Part of the motivation for institutions to accept students with parent or sibling legacy is tied to an expectation of greater donations. Parents are more likely to give money to their alma mater if one of their children attend, and are even more likely if two children attend and they do not need to split their charitable giving among several colleges.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 7.55.10 PMSome colleges are very direct about the value they place on sibling legacy. The three May sisters graduated from three different schools at Villanova University: Meaghan May Hildreth ’08 College of Engineering, Kaitlyn May Rolston ’10 College of Nursing, and Erinn May ’13 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. They articulate how their desire to contribute to alumni giving is a direct consequence of the impact of their college experiences at Villanova:

“The knowledge, friendships, and cherished memories from our time at Villanova is something we cannot put into words. Therefore our donations to the University and membership in the Young Alumni Circle are ways we are able to stay involved with the community and remember, Once a Wildcat, Always a Wildcat.

But for most other colleges, the role of sibling legacy is more informal. Ben Kavanaugh, Associate Director of Admissions at Bucknell University, states, “We certainly pay attention to sibling status but I wouldn’t say it acts as any kind of thumb on the scale.”

 

The Special Case of Twins and Multiples

Twins and other multiples represent a special situation in that admissions decisions are rendered at the same time, and the nature of the decisions may impact whether two (or more) prospective students choose to attend. Typically, each applicant’s file is reviewed independently, but at the end of the process, the admissions team may conduct one more review of twins or other multiples to make sure the decisions are justifiable and consistent, and adjust if appropriate.

Colleges are sensitive to the unique impact of admissions decisions on twins.

Relationships between multiples, as they refer to themselves, are often exceedingly close. When the rejection or acceptance e-mail arrives, sometimes on a single computer, the glory, disappointment, envy and guilt play out under the same roof, threatening the single most important relationship in their lives, beyond the one with their parents.”

Parke Muth, who served in admissions for selective universities for nearly 30 years, said,

“When I worked in admission, we always ran a list of twins before decisions went out. If at all possible, we tried to be consistent if they presented applications that were quite similar. In talking with a number of highly selective schools they would do the same.”

Anecdotally, some colleges actively seek out twins, and will ask specifically on the Common App supplement form. Duke University has such a question, and has been known to contact the twin of an applicant who has not applied.

Applying to college is a complex process! For guidance on how to maximize your chances of admission, contact us. As always, we’re happy to help!

The Role of Your Counselor Recommendation

Most colleges request a letter of recommendation from your high school guidance counselor. This letter serves a unique function in the college admissions process. The counselor is expected to describe your high school environment, place you within the context of your peers, and discuss your unique attributes. “Many college and university admission officers use the counselor recommendation to learn more about the school and the community of the student applying for admission,” says Shawn Abbott, assistant vice president and dean of admissions at New York University.

While your teachers will focus on your academic strengths, your counselor can provide insights about your character, values, and goals. As stated by Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, recommendations “help us look past the numbers and learn more about who the student is.”

Hamilton College’s admissions office advises counselors to “take the time to tell us things we wouldn’t learn elsewhere in the student’s application… To be sure, the single most important factor in our decision-making process is the high school transcript. But your comments and insight provide us with perspective and help us assess fit with our community.”

What questions are asked of counselors?

Beginning with the 2015-16 application year, the Common Application developed a new form for counselors to complete. The Counselor Form consists of several prompts to help admissions officers learn more about who you are as a person and as a student:

  • The duration and context in which you’ve known the applicant (short response)
  • The first words that come to mind to describe the applicant (short response)
  • A broad-based assessment addressing topics like academic and personal characteristics, contextual comments for the applicant’s performance and involvement, and/or observed problematic behaviors that an admissions committee should explore further (long response)

Understanding the recommendation process

The ratio of students per guidance counselor varies widely around the country, but the average is a staggering 476 students per guidance counselor. At most public high schools, there is no dedicated college counselor; instead, guidance counselors incorporate college advising within all their other academic and disciplinary responsibilities.

Some high schools have put procedures in place to help counselors obtain personalized information on students. At Midwood High School, in Brooklyn, which has two counselors for 800 seniors, the guidance office prepares a folder for each senior that includes their contact information, test scores, teacher recommendations, a student profile and autobiographical essay, and a “parent brag sheet” with anecdotal information.

But not all high schools have such an organized and comprehensive system for collecting personalized information about seniors. As a result, the more you can do to help your counselor understand who you are personally, the more effective his or her recommendation letter will be.

How can you help your counselor describe you as effectively as possible?

The strongest recommendations paint a well-rounded portrait of who you are. With that in mind, here are some tips:

Develop and maintain a strong relationship with your guidance counselor. Make regular appointments throughout each school year. Keep your counselor informed of your achievements in academics and activities. In the fall of senior year, stop by to discuss how you spent your summer.

Create a detailed resume that describes your extracurricular activities, internships, employment, and volunteer work in detail. Try to be as descriptive and authentic as possible, and don’t use generic phrases.

Write a 1-2 page letter to your counselor describing your strengths, values, and goals—if your counselor does not ask you to complete a form or essays. Reflect on the following questions, and provide thoughtful responses. If possible, provide specific anecdotes to illustrate your points:

  • What are a few significant experiences that have influenced who you are today?
  • What obstacles or challenges have you been faced with, and how did you overcome these?
  • How do you approach your schoolwork?
  • What are your relationships like with peers, teachers, and advisors?
  • How have you improved your community?
  • What academic areas of study in college interest you? How do these areas relate to your academic accomplishments in high school?
  • Do you have specific career goals at this point?

In addition, provide your counselor with a list of colleges you are currently considering applying to, as well as specialized academic programs if applicable.

For guidance on recommendations and other aspects of the college admissions process, feel free to contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

College Board Offers SAT in August, ACT adds July Test Date

The College Board began offering the SAT and Subject Tests in August 2017 for the first time, and will be eliminating the January test date going forward. Fewer test centers were available in August, since schools have a lighter staff during the summer.

The ACT also changed its test schedule, adding a July test date, effective July 2018. Both February and July test dates are not available in NY test centers, but students can travel to another state if these particular test dates suit them.

Finally, the College Board has instituted a faster score release policy, in which scores for multiple-choice questions will be available 13-19 days after each test date; with essay scores available 24 days later. For example, for the October 7 test date, multiple choice scores have been available October 20-26; and essay scores will be available October 31.

Why is the College Board Adding an August Test Date?

The new College Board test date is likely a response to the increase in seniors applying through early admissions and the consequent growth in SAT testers in the fall (see chart below). Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift towards early applications, in which seniors apply in November, and receive notification in December.

In large part, students are taking advantage of the strategic boost of applying early. The admit rates are typically much higher, and colleges are filling an increasing percentage of their freshman class through early admissions, leaving fewer spots to fill during regular admissions. As a result, the entire standardized testing schedule has shifted to earlier test dates. For early admissions, students need to complete their testing (SAT, ACT and Subject Tests) by October.

In addition to the recently added July 2018 date, the ACT also offers a test in September, an ideal time for seniors because they can prepare over the summer, and are just starting to deal with the academic requirements of senior year. The SAT has been steadily losing ground to the ACT over the past few years, and a strategic modification of the testing schedule may be an effort by the College Board to recover ground.

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Who Should Take the August Test?

The August test date is ideal for seniors who would like an additional chance to improve their SAT or Subject Test score after their junior year testing, or would like to take additional Subject Tests. The summer typically provides a less intense environment in which to prepare, without the pressures of schoolwork.

For rising juniors, we do not advise taking the SAT until November or December, because students typically experience meaningful growth and maturity over junior year, and continue to learn content that can boost their scores.

One exception, however, would be rising juniors who are pursuing athletic recruitment, and need early testing scores for coaches to make a determination about whether they are viable candidates.

For each student, deciding when and how often to take the SAT or ACT depends on a variety of factors, including whether you are applying to colleges through early or rolling admissions, the selectivity of your colleges, how much time you can devote to test preparation, and your competing time commitments. 

Test Centers for August SAT

Many test centers have chosen not to offer their sites for the August test date, creating a tight supply for what might be a large demand. For example, only 53 test centers will be available in New York, reflecting an 80% drop in the number of test centers from June to August. Brooklyn only has one test center, and it is already filled. As a result, if you are interested in the August test date, register as soon as possible so that you find a space, preferably at a test site that is convenient for you.

This interactive map by Compass Education Group shows the data for a selection of 12 states.

The college testing environment is constantly undergoing changes. To help you sort through testing options and plan for successful college admissions, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

 

REFERENCE: 2017-18 SAT and Subject Tests Test Dates

Note that Subject Tests are not offered in March. Also, while Literature, US History, Math 1, Math 2, Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered every testing date (but March), World History and Language tests vary by month. In addition, although you can choose to add more Subject Tests on the day of testing (with a maximum of three), the one test that you cannot add on the spot is Language with Listening, because that requires special equipment.

2017-18 SAT Subject Tests U.S. Administration Dates and Deadlines
SAT Date SAT Subject Tests Available Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline

August 26, 2017

Register

July 28, 2017

August 8, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

August 15, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

October 7, 2017

Register

September 8, 2017

September 19, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

September 27, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

November 4, 2017

Register

October 5, 2017

October 17, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

October 25, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

December 2, 2017

Register

November 2, 2017

November 14, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

November 21, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

May 5, 2018 April 6, 2018

April 17, 2018 (for mailed registrations)

April 25, 2018 (for registrations made online or by phone)

June 2, 2018 May 3, 2018

May 15, 2018 (for mailed registrations)

May 23, 2018 (for registrations made online or by phone)

 

 

The ABCs of Secondary School Curricula: Advanced Placement (AP)

 Why are so many students participating in Advanced Placement (AP) programs in the U.S.? In addition to enabling students to explore subject matter in greater depth, these courses and exams have become a gateway into prestigious and highly selective schools.

Due to the important role that this program now plays in the college admissions process, it is no wonder that there has been a tremendous surge in its popularity. In fact, during this week and next, almost 3 million high school students will be taking AP exams.

According to a recent study, from 1992 to 2012, the number of schools in the United States which offered AP courses nearly doubled, and the number of AP exams administered increased more than 500%. The AP program has international popularity as well; universities in over 60 countries outside the United States recognize AP in the admission process.

In this blog, we’ll provide an overview of the AP program, help navigate its complexities, and explore its potential benefits. AP courses are accepted at virtually all U.S. colleges and universities, but how the colleges use AP scores and credits varies. Some schools use AP scores to allow for advanced placement (skipping over entry-level courses), college credit, the satisfaction of distribution requirements, and/or early graduation.

AP Exam Scoring

To make sure that you understand how the AP exam scoring relates to college-readiness and college grades, here is a quick synopsis of how the exams are graded. The Advanced Placement Program offers more than 30 courses and exams. Each AP course concludes with a college-level assessment developed and scored by college and university faculty, as well as experienced AP teachers.

Research consistently shows that students who receive a score of 3 or higher on AP exams typically experience greater academic success in college and have higher graduation rates than their non-AP peers. Selective colleges treat strong scores on the APs as additional evidence of your ability to master course content. In order to be considered for credit or placement, you must send your official AP score report to the college you’re planning to attend.

Scores on the free-response questions are weighted and combined with the results of the multiple-choice questions, and this raw score is converted into a composite AP score of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1.

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For example, earning a 5 is the equivalent of receiving an A in the college course. Similarly, AP Exam scores of 4 are equivalent to college grades of A−, B+, and B. AP Exam scores of 3 are equivalent to college grades of B−, C+, and C (See AP’s college database for specific policies at each university).

Benefits of Taking AP Courses/Exams

AP courses are more challenging than standard high school level courses. However, there are many benefits to taking AP courses, which can make them worth the extra work required to succeed.

AP helps you develop college-level skills, thereby easing the transition from high school to college

AP classes require college-level critical thinking skills. As a result, taking these classes can help high school students improve in areas like high-level computation, essay writing, and problem-solving, thereby easing the transition into college.

Adjusting to life in college is often challenging, as students have to make sense of many changes happening at once. For many college freshmen, this is the first time they are living away from home. They must learn to be self-sufficient while also navigating a new social and academic world. Taking AP courses in high school can help ease the academic transition, giving students one less thing to worry about.

AP courses are valued by college admission counselors

Admission officers specifically look for students who have taken the most challenging courses available to them. Success in high-level courses, like APs or the International Baccalaureate program, is a strong indicator of preparedness for college. Often, high schools reflect the rigor of AP coursework by weighting these courses higher than other courses in the GPA calculation, which provides students with a higher weighted GPA, and potentially a higher class rank (for high schools that rank).

 AP classes can help you save money

Taking AP classes in high school (and scoring well on the exam) can yield college credit. Depending on your university’s requirements, you may not have to take these subjects again in college. So, instead of paying a substantial amount for the courses in college, you only have to pay a small portion in order to take the AP exam in high school (See AP’s college database for specific policies at each university). AP exams can also help you to graduate early, if you so desire.

AP course credit enables students to take higher-level courses and a broader array of courses

Earning college credit in high school will free up your schedule, giving you the opportunity to take more electives in college. Gaining course credit through AP exams allows you to skip introductory courses and enter directly into higher-level courses. This is helpful for students who have already chosen a major by allowing them to dive right into the material they find most interesting. It is also helpful for students who are undecided, as it allows them to take more electives by skipping some general education requirements.

 

How Many and Which AP courses Should You Take?

Students and parents often ask how many AP courses is the “right” amount to be competitive in college admissions. The answer, as with so many other college-related questions, is “it depends!” Here are a few factors that should inform your planning of which and how many AP courses to take:

  • How strong are you academically? It’s important to consider this honestly and frankly; you want to challenge yourself to a reasonable degree, but not be overwhelmed by coursework beyond your capabilities.
  • To that end, what are your academic and career interests? Many students do not yet have a definite plan for their major or career, which is perfectly fine! But if you do have interests at this point, and discuss them in your college applications, they should be supported by your academics.For example, if you plan to apply to an engineering school within a University, it would be expected that you take AP Calculus, and you would strengthen your admissions chances if you also take AP levels of relevant sciences, such as AP Biology for Biomedical Engineering, or AP Physics for Mechanical Engineering.
  • What is your work ethic? Are you willing to do the extra work required by AP courses, and to participate more deeply in classroom discussion?
  • What are your other commitments? Family or work obligations, extracurricular activities, and other commitments are both important and time-consuming. Evaluate your time realistically, and choose an appropriate number of AP courses.
  • What AP courses are available at your high school?
    Colleges evaluate the rigor of your high school curriculum relative to what’s available at your high school. In addition to ensuring that your course-load is manageable for you, evaluate it in the context of what’s available to you.

 Important Tips & Takeaways 

AP classes will challenge you on an intellectual level, ease transition to college, and give you a chance to earn college credit while still in high school. Nevertheless, it’s important for students to show a balance between formal and informal studies to college admissions officers. Often, students feel pressured to add another AP course — sometimes a fifth, sixth, or seventh — and, consequently, drop something they really enjoy, like sports, music, or extracurricular activities.

But in actuality, most admissions officers want to see well-rounded individuals who are involved in extracurricular activities. Therefore, it is not necessarily the best course of action to drop extracurricular activities in order to fit more courses into your schedule. Challenge yourself in a way that is reasonable for you, while making sure that your course load provides you with material that keeps you interested and engaged.

Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed, which could lead to burnout. “There are people who arrive at college out of gas,” says William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It’s crazy for students to think in lockstep they must take four or five or six advanced-placement courses because colleges demand it.”

Wondering what you should do? Collegiate Gateway has a wealth of experience in advising for future curriculum planning. Feel free to contact us—we’re always happy to help!

Who Benefits from Test-optional and Test-flexible Admissions Policies?

As the role of college entrance exams continues to shift, many students find it difficult to navigate evolving and variable testing requirements. The process is made even more complex by the growing number of “test-optional” schools that do not require students to submit the SAT or ACT.

Over 925 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake Forest, Smith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYU, Middlebury and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.

Many students question how to handle test-optional policies, and are unsure of whether or not they should submit their scores. In this blog, we will take a closer look at student choices in applying to test optional colleges and why more and more schools are offering test-optional admissions policies.

Which colleges offer test-optional policies? Are all policies the same?

FairTest.org offers a comprehensive list of the colleges that currently offer test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies. While colleges offering these policies include a variety of institutions, it is notable that many are small liberal arts colleges, public universities, and small Catholic colleges. With few exceptions, the most highly selective colleges continue to require standardized testing; besides being a standard indicator of college readiness, test scores can create a benchmark of acceptance for schools that are becoming inundated with ever-increasing applicant pools.

It is interesting to note that of the 50 highest-ranked national universities, only four have test-optional or test-flexible policies, including Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU, whereas 21 of the top-ranked liberal arts universities offer such testing options. One possible reason is that to attract applicants, the national universities rely more on US News & World Report’s rankings, which factor in test scores. In addition, small liberal arts universities are typically more holistic in their evaluations of candidates.

Test-optional and test-flexible policies vary widely, and the best way to make sure that you are submitting the correct testing requirements is to research the details on the specific college’s website.

For example, NYU (test-flexible) requires testing but students have a variety of options:

  • ACT (writing test not required)
  • SAT(essay test not required)
  • 3SAT Subject Test scores
  • 3AP exam scores
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma
  • 3IB higher-level exam scores if not an IB Diploma candidate
  • Nationally accredited examthat shows you completed your secondary education

Many test-optional schools require students who are not submitting test scores to meet additional requirements, including interviews, writing samples, teacher recommendations, or completing a Test-Optional Form. For example, Franklin & Marshall College requires students who choose to opt out of testing to submit two graded writing samples (creative or analytical), preferably from a humanities or social science course. Loyola University Maryland asks applicants who take advantage of their test-optional policy to submit an additional teacher recommendation and/or personal essay. At Virginia Commonwealth University, high school applicants must have at least a 3.3 GPA to bypass testing requirements.

Interestingly, many test-optional schools, including Marist College, require students to submit standardized test scores once they have been accepted and enroll. The schools use these test scores for the purposes of academic advisement and course placement.

Why do schools offer test-optional policies?

Increasing ethnic diversity

Many schools, including Wake Forest, claim that test-optional policies have led to a more diverse student body with no notable difference in academic achievement between students who opted out of testing and those who submitted scores. Wake Forest also states that ethnic diversity increased by 54% in the first seven years that their test-optional policy went into effect. A 2014 report from two former Bates College admissions officials, William Hiss and Valerie Franks, also found an increase in racial and socio-economic diversity at test-optional schools.

Focusing on holistic admissions

In determining whether an applicant is a good fit, test-optional schools stress the importance of examining the student’s complete academic profile. The College of the Holy Cross states, “We are test optional because we have found that a student’s academic history in high school is a better indicator of their scholastic ability than an exam taken on a singular Saturday morning.”

Fairness

Many institutions are disillusioned with current standardized testing, and feel that the test preparation available to the wealthy creates an unfair advantage. For example, Marist College states, “Many studies indicate performance on standardized tests is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible bias against certain minority students. Our experience shows that the rigor of a student’s program and overall academic performance can best illustrate commitment, motivation, work ethic, and a willingness to take on challenges.”

Improved US News Rankings

Intentional or not, the schools offering test-optional policies also tend to see improved U.S. News rankings. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia examined data from 32 selective liberal arts colleges, and found that, after going test-optional, these schools received an average increase of 220 applications and their mean SAT scores rose by an average of 26 points.

Selectivity and test scores are important factors in the U.S. News rankings. US News is transparent about the components that comprise its ranking methodology. 8.125% of rankings derive from the SAT critical reading and math portions; and the composite ACT score; and 1.25% from selectivity.

Test-optional policies tend to increase applicant numbers, creating higher selectivity for the schools, and since students who did better on standardized tests report their scores, while students with low scores often do not, the school can report artificially inflated test scores of accepted applicants. Test scores make up 65% of the US News selectivity rating, which becomes 12.5% of the larger weighting used to rank each college.

Notably, the only “test-blind” school, Hampshire College, is unranked by US News. Hampshire College does not consider any ACT or SAT scores as part of its admissions policy, and therefore has no scores to report. Sarah Lawrence was once “test-blind” as well, from 2003 to 2012. In 2012, Sarah Lawrence switched to a “test-optional” policy, presumably to rejoin the ranks of US News, among other reasons.

Bottom-line: Should I send my scores?

At the end of the day, you might be deliberating over whether or not to send your scores. Here are some considerations to assist in your decision:

Research the range of standardized test scores for accepted students

According to U.S. News, “If you do some research and find that your results fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median at more inclusive institutions, you may want to hold them back.”

Decide if your test scores accurately represent your potential as a student

At the College of the Holy Cross, Director of Admissions Ann McDermott writes, “If you feel your testing says something about you and your abilities, feel free to send them along. We will look at them in conjunction with your transcript, your recommendations, essay, and interview (if you have had one) and make our assessment.  If, on the other hand, you feel that your test scores do not represent you well, then do not hesitate to withhold them. We will not make any assumptions about your testing, and will focus our attention on your transcript and the other accompanying credentials that are contained in your application.”

Take a hard look at your academic performance and activity list

Jane H. Dane, associate vice president for enrollment management at Old Dominion University in Virginia, notes that applicants who withhold scores are “particularly scrutinized for other evidence of potential for success, like challenging course work and leadership skills. The more well-rounded you are, the better your chances of impressing without scores.”

Remember that regardless of testing policies, all schools look at more than your scores

Try to remember that test scores are just one part of your college application, and not even the most significant one. As the College Board reminds us, “College admission officers give the most weight and importance to your high school grades and whether you’re challenging yourself.”

Determining the best testing options for each student requires consideration of a variety of factors and personal preferences. For more information on standardized testing, or any other aspect of the college admissions process, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. We’re always happy to help!

Keeping Your College Acceptance

For students who have been accepted early decision or who have already put a deposit down on their regular acceptance choice, it can be tempting to enjoy senior year and slack off. Colleges do not often revoke admissions acceptances, but there are occasions when they do. In this blog, we will discuss the importance of finishing your high school education on a strong note, and in which instances schools renege on their admissions decisions.

Reasons to Revoke a College Acceptance

According to Money Magazine, colleges only reverse about one to two percent of their admissions acceptances each year, so it is the exception and not the norm. Through 2009, NACAC (National Association for College Admissions Counselors) tracked data on the percentage of acceptances that were rescinded by colleges, but has not released similar information since then.

However, it is important to note that it does happen every year, and in the fine print of almost every student’s acceptance letter, there is some language reserving the college’s the right to revoke your acceptance.

Here are some of the reasons for rescinding a college acceptance:

Grades Drop Dramatically

It is one thing for a straight “A” student to receive one “B” in the second semester of senior year. But a significant decrease in grades from the transcript presented for admission could be cause for concern. For each student, the situation is unique, depending on the grades you had presented at the time of admission and the selectivity of the college. For any student, receiving “C’s” or “D’s” requires explanation of any extenuating factors that impacted academic performance.

Stephen Lee, associate vice president for enrollment management at West Virginia University states, “Because of the way the offer of admission often occurs halfway through the senior year, (admission) is contingent upon successfully completion of the senior year in a manner that’s consistent with how a student applied.” Colleges accepted you as a certain type of student, and they want you to remain this student throughout your high school education.

Disciplinary Trouble

This can include academic cheating, legal issues (such as underage drinking), or any other serious lapse in judgment. In 2003, Blair Hornstein infamously lost her acceptance to Harvard after it was discovered that she had plagiarized several articles that she’d written for her local newspaper. The Harvard Crimson cited that “Harvard admission is contingent on five conditions enumerated for students upon their acceptance—including one which stipulates admission will be revoked ‘if you engage in behavior that brings into question your honesty, maturity, or moral character.’”

Keep this in mind before making any lax decisions about plagiarism, cheating on tests, drinking or using drugs, or engaging in activities that could result in disciplinary action. In addition, note that colleges often examine your social media presence. Guard your social media and digital footprint against anything that could reflect poorly on your character.

What to Do if You Find Yourself in Trouble

Most colleges send a warning letter and give students the chance to explain themselves before a college acceptance is revoked. Heed this warning seriously and follow-up with your college. If your grades take a steep drop, you will have to explain the extenuating circumstances for this change, beyond mere “senioritis.”

Colleges receive your final transcript at the end of senior year, and they do read them. If you see that your grades are slipping dramatically, speak with your guidance counselor. It may be best to contact the college in advance to explain why and how you are taking action to improve these grades, such as maintaining a work schedule and working more closely with your teachers.

If you get into disciplinary trouble, be honest with your college and report it before they hear about it through other channels. Get ahead of the problem by explaining your actions, how you have tried to remedy the situation, and how the incident will not be repeated.

Receiving your desired college acceptance is a thrilling experience, and senior year can be a wonderful time for celebration and independence. However, keep in mind that your future depends on completing your high school education with integrity and diligence. You need to prove to your college that you can handle the path of academics and freedom that lies ahead. Equally as important, continuing to engage in your academics will best prepare you for success in college.

As you embark on this new life journey—Collegiate Gateway wishes you all the best!

Making the Most of Summer College Visits

Summer vacation is right around the corner, and with it comes many opportunities to visit potential colleges. In the fall, you’ll be incredibly busy with classes, homework, and college applications. Which means that it’s more important than ever to visit prospective colleges while you still have time.

The fact that fewer students are on campus can sometimes make it harder to get a good feel for a school, but that doesn’t mean the visit isn’t worth it. In fact, if you plan effectively, there are even a few advantages. The summer is an excellent time to explore a wide variety of different colleges, and discover what’s most important to you. If a school ends up at the top of your list, you can always plan a return trip for the fall.

Take advantage of extra time and flexibility.

Visiting campuses is an important step in the college admissions process. Since you’ll be visiting in the summer, your visits can last longer. You’ll have fewer responsibilities and will be able to extend trips for an extra day or two. This gives you time not only to see more colleges, but to tour each one in a more in-depth way. You’ll have time to stay overnight, which in turn provides opportunities to meet with professors and explore the surrounding town (more on that below).

Visit far-away campuses.

In order to figure out which schools will fit you best, it’s important to visit as many as you reasonably can – from large research universities to small liberal arts colleges, located in big cities, small towns and everywhere in between. Since you don’t have to worry about missing school, you can explore campuses that are otherwise too far from home; the summer is a great time to drive or fly cross-country – even abroad! Not to mention that, if you’re already planning a vacation, you may be able to visit nearby campuses.

Personalize your tour.

There will be fewer students on campus, but fewer visitors as well. Over the summer, both tour groups and information sessions will be smaller. Take advantage of this, and ask more questions about the specific features that matter to you.

Seek out students who stayed behind.

Even though it’s summer, there will still be students on campus – you just have to try a little harder to find them.  Some will be taking classes, while others will be conducting research, interning, or working. And, luckily for you, admissions offices are generally more than happy to put you in contact with students to talk to you about life on campus. In some cases, they can even pair you with students who share your interest in particular majors, sports, or other organizations. All you have to do is ask!

Schedule meetings with professors in your field of interest.

Visit the home pages of departments you are interested in and find one or two faculty members who teach or conduct research there. Email them to ask if they might have a few minutes to chat with you. You’ll be surprised how often they say yes, especially if you’re visiting during the less busy summer months. Meeting directly with faculty is a great way to find useful information about academic programs that are important to you, and to learn about the school from a unique perspective. Find out why faculty choose to teach at this particular college, and ask about the kinds of students who thrive there. In doing so, you’ll gain a deeper and more nuanced view of academic life on campus.

Hit the town.

The summer also gives you time to explore the surrounding town. In addition to checking out restaurants, shopping centers, and other entertainment venues, make sure to do your homework on more practical places like pharmacies, grocery stores, and bookstores. You may also want to take some time to check out potential off-campus housing, especially if a significant percentage of students choose not to live on campus.

Take notes (and pictures, too).

Once you’ve visited a large number of colleges, you may not remember the specifics of each. Take notes and pictures throughout your visit in order to keep track of the features you like (as well as those you don’t). Capture the architecture, paying particular attention to buildings where you would spend time, such as the student center, museum, and gym.

Remember to register.

Finally, remember to register at the admissions office when you visit. This will ensure that each college has a permanent record of your visit, an important part of demonstrating interest.

Enjoy yourself!

The college process is already fraught with enough anxiety, so make this part as enjoyable as possible. Enjoy travelling, and have fun imagining yourself as a student at different colleges – pretty soon, you will be!

Here at Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help! Feel free to contact us with any questions about the college process.