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College Admissions: 5 Fixes for Low SATs

Monday, October 24, 2011


What to do if the scores just aren't what you expected

Fall SAT results are out, and some students didn’t do as well as they hoped. Standardized tests are a key part of admissions decisions at many colleges, but there are ways that applicants can try to improve their scores or minimize the impact on their college acceptances. Here are 5 things to consider:

Test prep works

Studies have proven that SAT prep does raise scores. However, sitting in a large class once a week isn’t a silver bullet. You need to study outside of class and do the practice tests. Students who do work on their own in addition to a program see the highest bumps in scores. Also consider private tutoring to address some of your individual deficiencies in areas like vocabulary, geometry or algebra. Baron’s, Princeton Review and The Collegeboard publish great books with strategies and practice tests.

Consider “Fairtest” colleges

There are more than 800 colleges in the U.S. that do not require you to submit SAT (or ACT) scores. From Bates and Middlebury in New England to Franklin & Marshall and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and Pitzer in California, many top notch colleges exist where your scores don’t have to affect your admission chances. In recent years, Catholic colleges have been joining the Fairtest movement en masse. Today, Providence College, Stonehill, DePaul and many others are now test optional.  For a complete list of Fairtest colleges, go to www.fairtest.org.

Look for colleges with lower SAT ranges

Not every college requires high SAT or ACT scores for admission. If your scores are low and you can’t find SAT optional colleges that you like, it’s time to look at colleges with a reasonable “mid 50% SAT/ACT range”. Web sites like www.collegedata.com and www.collegeboard.com provide this information for each school.

Explain low scores on your application

The Common Application has a section that allows students to elaborate on anything that may be important for an admissions committee to consider concerning their academic or personal history. If standardized testing is not your strong suit due to nerves, a learning difference or some other factor, this is the place to explain that. It probably won’t help you get into Yale with 500s, but it’s worth a try at some schools.

Consider the ACT

It started in the Midwest and West, but the ACT has been gaining popularity fast on the east coast. It is accepted at ALL 4-year colleges in the U.S., and in some cases counts for both the SAT and SAT II Subject Tests. It is based more on your coursework vs. aptitude, and can often be a better test for students who do well academically but have difficulty with standardized tests. Because it has less vocabulary, it can also be a wise choice for students who struggle with the Critical Reading section of the SAT. You can find more info and test dates at www.act.org.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.

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