The last few years have seen some major shifts in SAT/ACT testing and college admissions. Before the pandemic, over half of colleges required SAT or ACT scores. However, during the 2022-23 admission cycle, only 4% of colleges required SAT or ACT scores to apply. The large majority of schools were test-optional, which means you can send SAT/ACT scores if you would like them included in your application, but you will not be penalized if you do not send SAT/ACT scores. Although this is a welcome change for many students, it also brings up a lot of questions.

In addition to the shifting SAT/ACT testing requirements for colleges, there is also a major change coming to the SAT in 2024. The SAT will change to a digital format. This means the SAT will change in the middle of junior year for the class of 2025.

Will colleges still be test optional when I apply?

Many colleges were already test-optional before the pandemic. However, the pandemic accelerated the test-optional movement and many colleges responded by piloting test-optional admissions for two to three years. Now the question is will colleges keep the test-optional policy in place.

Some colleges, like MIT and University of Tennessee, resumed requiring SAT/ACT scores for the 2022-23 admissions cycle. Purdue and the University of Georgia announced that they will require SAT/ACT scores beginning with the 2023-24 admissions cycle. Other schools, such as Cornell and UNC, have not announced beyond the 2023-24 admission season. Virginia Tech and UVA have both committed to staying test-optional through the 2024-25 admission season. Still other schools will allow test-optional applications with a minimum GPA. For example, Georgia State University will be test-optional for students with a 3.4+ GPA.

Because there is so much variation in the admissions requirements between colleges, my advice to class of 2025 is to plan to take the SAT or ACT. It’s better to have a score and not need it, then need a score and not have one. If standardized testing is not your strength, there will definitely be a lot of test-optional colleges to choose from. However, if you want to keep your options open, plan to prepare for and take the SAT or ACT.

Also, as you research colleges, start a spreadsheet with those of interest to keep track of SAT/ACT policy, average scores, and any other requirements for test-optional (ex: do you need SAT/ACT scores for certain programs or scholarships?) 

Should I still send SAT or ACT scores, even if a college is test-optional? Will it “look bad” if I don’t send SAT/ACT scores?

This is one of the first questions I am asked. How will an application be viewed if SAT/ACT scores are not included? Will it make colleges assume the worst? Will sending scores give you a better chance at acceptance?  It is a difficult question to answer.

Many colleges do not publish the data comparing percent accepted of applicants that submitted scores compared to percent accepted that did not submit scores. For schools that did publish that data, there were higher acceptance rates for applications with SAT/ACT scores. For example, for the 2021-22 admission cycle for UVA, 42% of applicants opted not to submit SAT/ACT scores. However, only 26% of acceptance offers were given to the group of students that chose not to submit scores. Similarly, Boston College admitted 25% of applicants with test scores but only 10% of applicants without SAT or ACT scores.

Although these statistics would seem to confirm that submitting scores gives applicants a better chance of acceptance, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Did applicants that chose to submit SAT/ACT scores also just have stronger applications as a whole? Did they have higher GPAs and more rigorous coursework?

The bottom line is that nearly everything is optional when it comes to college applications. Students don’t have to participate in sports. They don’t have to join clubs or play an instrument. They don’t have to push themselves to take the fourth year of a language or AP Calculus. However, all of these things contribute to the college application. You should think of SAT/ACT scores in context of your strengths and weaknesses and what your application will look like as a whole. If standardized tests show a strength, it’s worth putting time into preparing and doing well on the SAT or ACT, even if a school is test-optional.

Which test should I take?

The SAT is changing from the current paper-and-pencil version to the new digital version in the beginning of 2024. That means, for students in the class of 2025, you will have three options: current version of the SAT, new digital version of the SAT, or ACT. While it is nice to have options, this also creates a lot of stress and confusion.

Here is what I would recommend: in the beginning of the summer between 10th and 11th grade, try a practice ACT and a practice digital SAT. You can find a free ACT here. To try the new digital SAT, download the Blue Book app from College Board and try a full-length test under “Practice and Prepare”. This will simulate the digital testing experience and allow you to practice using the digital tools such as the built-in calculator.

After you take the two tests, compare the scores to your PSAT 10 scores. There is a concordance chart available to compare the ACT to the current SAT. The College Board says that the new digital SAT will be on the same scale, so the scores between the two SATs will be directly comparable. Was one test significantly higher? If so, you have your answer.

  • PSAT (paper and pencil) was highest score. If this is true, you will only have the option to take this version of the SAT until December of 2023. Therefore, students that want to take the current SAT will need to prepare during summer before and fall of junior year. Take the SAT in October and December to give yourself two opportunities.
  • ACT was highest score. Great! That makes life easy because then you don’t have to worry about the test changing midway through junior year. Choose three test dates spaced out throughout the year. For example, December 2023, April 2024, and July 2024 may be a good cadence.
  • Digital SAT was highest score. The downside is you won’t be able to attempt the digital SAT until 2024. Right now, March 2024 would be your first option. Many students taking challenging courses like to get the SAT out of the way earlier in junior year so that SAT Prep doesn’t overlap with preparing for AP exams and finals.
  • Scores between the tests were all about equal. If you score about the same on all three of the tests, you can decide which test to take based on which test you “liked” better or which test you think would be easiest to improve upon. I would likely lean towards the ACT if the scores were close so that you don’t have to worry about the test changing in the middle of the year and you can start taking the ACT earlier in junior year rather than waiting until March.

Can I take the current paper-and-pencil SAT and the new digital SAT? Will colleges superscore the two tests together?

This is one of the million-dollar questions. If you are unfamiliar with the term superscore, it refers to the practice of taking the highest math score and combining it with the highest reading and writing score, even if they were taken on different test dates. The large majority of colleges currently superscore the SAT.

According to the College Board, the current SAT and the new digital SAT will be on the same scale so, in theory, the two tests could be superscored. However, whether colleges will superscore between the two tests is up to the individual college. At this point, colleges have not said whether they will allow superscoring between the tests.

The last time the SAT underwent a significant overhaul was in 2015. At that time, the scale between the tests did change, so colleges did not combine scores from the old (2005-2015) SAT to the revised (2015-current) SAT.

In summary, because we don’t know whether colleges will combine the current SAT scores with the new digital SAT scores, I would suggest planning to get the best score you can on one version of the test.

To sum it up

There have been many changes in college admissions and standardized testing over the last three years. The bottom line is that test-optional policies are here to stay at many schools. During junior year, it’s worth trying the SAT and or ACT at least once so that you have a score, if you need it. If you feel like your score doesn’t show your strengths as a student, there will be test optional colleges from which to choose. Keep your grades up and challenge yourself in your classes as that will remain the most important factor in college admissions.