Hands shaking, palms sweating, heart racing. All for the SATs. But wait, are those even required anymore?
Over the past few years, colleges have begun to be test optional when it comes to submitting SAT/ACT scores. While most colleges made this switch due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some colleges have not been requiring them for even longer. Bowdoin, in 1969, became the first college to be test optional. They focus instead on the academic achievements and interest extracurricular students have to bring to the school. As the Class of 2023 has started to get their school-administered SAT scores back, it made me wonder, how much will it affect me to not have my score present on my applications?
Because of the dropping of SAT/ACT requirements, this has prompted many juniors to opt not to take them. Madelyn Marthouse (‘23) has had the experience of being surrounded by her mother and step-mom, who both work in higher education at Southern New Hampshire University. Because of this, Marthouse has been able to have an inside look on the process on how the SATs can aid in the application process and how they can not.
For Marthouse, a big part of not taking the SATs was the stress taking the SATs would bring. “After I took the PSATs, I was absurdly upset and [my mom] was telling me that not a lot of colleges look at the SAT scores anymore. She then said I could use that to prioritize my mental health over taking a three hour long test.”
This can be the case for others, as well. Differing from Marthouse, I did take the SATs in late March. I had gone through an entire prep course and been conditioned on what to expect. Taking the test for almost five hours, and being on a computer to take them, certainly took a toll on my brain afterwards and my stress was off the charts. I certainly blanked a lot as well and my mind raced with the different tips and tricks I was taught.
Even if the SATs/ACTs are not required, some see the benefit and feel that they have helped them during their application process. Tyler Rinko (‘23) went through the five hour test as well, actually in the same test room as me. While we could all feel the stress radiating off ourselves by the end, Rinko says that he thinks the SATs definitely benefited him. “They’re a great indicator for me of where I am [academically] and what I need to work on. I mean, they’re not super specialized, but they reflect well on where you are as a student.”
This approach was interesting from Rinko, seeing as New Hampshire uses the SAT scores as standardized state testing grades. School Counselor, Heather Machanoff, talks about this in further detail saying, “every state has some kind of testing that they use to measure progress of students. In New Hampshire, the Department of Education had decided that in 11th grade they would take an assessment. Previously, it was called the NECAP (New England Common Assessment), then it was the SAS (NH Statewide Assessment System).”
After this change, a question was raised on this testing and how the SATs could be incorporated. Machanoff continued, saying, “when they changed from the NECAP to the SAS, there was a question of, ‘could the state assessment be the SATs?’” And that’s exactly what they did. They changed it to make the SATs the 11th grade state testing, instead of sticking an extra test on those who had decided to take the SATs.
This requirement can be helpful, but so can the scores in specific cases. Nathan Mendoza (‘22) will be attending University of California Davis this upcoming fall. While this is a school that still does require students to submit their scores, even if they did not, Mendoza had always planned on taking the SAT either way. “My parents from a really young age stressed the fact that the SATs were kind of like a gateway to getting into a good college or just any college in general.”
This however, is not the only factor that Mendoza believes makes him stand out for other applicants…or even something that was a major factor during his application process. “I think that one of the really big myths that surrounds the college application process is that the SATs is the biggest factor in a college application.” Mendoza then follows by saying how he, himself, felt his score was on the lower side compared to the average score for the schools he applied to.
Even if Mendoza still used the score, some chose not to utilize them at all. Allison Howland (‘22), was so ready for her SATs and optimistic about the score she was going to get. She had always thought of herself as someone who would spend months on end preparing…that was not necessarily the case. “I was so unprepared going into it, then I got the mindset that the SAT was stupid and that was a little bit because I didn’t care about it, but also I was researching a lot about college and I found out that the main colleges I was applying to were test-optional.”
Luckily, according to Howland, “good grades can make up for a bad SAT score, but a good SAT score cannot make up for bad grades.” With Howland’s good grades on hand, she will be attending Smith College, a school she applied to without submitting her SAT scores, and she was accepted with her early decision application.
So, then why put in all the work to study? That’s what Ben Mongomerty (‘22) was wondering after he took the SAT test three times and received a final score of 1520. Even with this near perfect score, Montgomery was still accepted into very few of the competitive schools he applied to, waitlisted or even rejected from majority. Contemplating on this, he thinks he knows why: “I think I spent a lot of time studying for [the SATs] and instead of doing that, I could have participated in more extracurricular activities or worked on my essays.”
This is something that may help Marthouse stand out from other applicants when she begins the application process fall of 2022. “I have engaged in a lot of extracurricular activities, including yearbook, as well as my photography.” Marthouse also touched on how her grades will hopefully aid her as well.
Mendoza also backs up this point. “I feel like the most important thing that colleges like to look at are their extracurriculars… They don’t want students who are going to study all the time, they want students who are going to make their community better, as well as the college they are going to better.”
With this test score option, students are still feeling the sting of rejection. See Bhavana Muppala’s article “Rejected” for how this has affected the Class of 2022. Machanoff may have an answer to this. “I think there’s a perception that because Covid happened, more people apply to a school that maybe they wouldn’t have before.”
Machanoff then continues on about what those high levels of applications could mean for students, causing some hard rejections. “If you look at those upper-tier schools and try to gauge the system like, ‘how do I get in, it’s so competitive.’ If everyone is doing that, then that increases the number of applicants and decreases the acceptance rate.”
The majority of the Class of 2022 has now decided where they are going to go to school if they are going to go at all. This leaves the Class of 2023 with soon having to go through this same process, with the exception of some schools beginning to yet again require the submission of SAT scores. As one of those juniors, having to potentially submit my SAT scores is scary. I did not necessarily do poorly, but it’s still nerve-wracking to someone who is not an exceptional test taker and could be denied from schools I would get into if I did not have to submit my scores.
However, with the knowledge I have learned, I feel confident that I will be able to rely on my extracurriculars that I have built over the years. I think it’s important to remember that an SAT score will not define your future. Those Princeton Review ads on Youtube always say, “the only thing the SATs test you on is mastering the SATs.”