How Important Are SAT/ACT Exams?

Dear Dr. Linda,

My wife is having our son take the SAT and the ACT over and over again. Each time it costs money and even more money for the tutor. I’m an attorney and never took this many exams in my life. Our son is miserable, my wife is determined and I’m angry. I guess you have a clear picture of our home environment at this time. It’s not pretty. Any advice?


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Dear Michael,

College acceptance is not solely dependent on college entrance exams. College admissions counselors look at the student’s entire profile. They begin with the student’s GPA. That is one of the most important factors. They also look at extracurricular activities, teacher recommendations, the interview and the college essay. The SAT/ACT scores are important, too, but colleges look at the whole package.

Different colleges’ admissions counselors have different criteria too. They may be looking for students from a rural area or from an urban area. They may be looking for students to fill the music department or philosophy department. They may accept a student with a lower GPA or SAT score simply because that student is an outstanding athlete.

Recently, a college admissions counselor told me that last year there were two students that had almost identical qualifications, but one’s essay was outstanding. Because of that student’s experience, even though her SAT score was slightly lower than the other student’s, they chose her.

I personally know of many students with lower GPAs or lower SAT/ACT scores who were accepted to a particular college because they had special accomplishments. That’s true for many students applying for the arts. Many colleges ask to see a student’s portfolio before even looking at grades or tests.

Admissions counselors also look for students who show community involvement. For example, if two students have similar GPAs and SAT/ACT scores, the student who is an Eagle Scout or has volunteered at the hospital for years will have a greater chance of getting into some schools than a student who joined a few clubs so they can write them down on their college application.

The point is, taking more SAT/ACT exams alone with the goal of raising his scores is no guarantee your son will be accepted. Colleges are not in the business of accepting robots. They accept students who they believe will succeed based on their academic and personal achievements. The good news is that if a student has a goal and is not accepted into their dream college, they can always start at a different school and transfer in.

Besides, when they apply for their first job, they will never be asked where they began. They’ll be asked where they finished.

Dr. Linda

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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