8 Things to Know About How Colleges Use Admission Tests

Find the right college for you.

  1. College admission tests like the SAT and ACT are standardized tests typically taken in your junior or senior year. Colleges use scores from these tests to help them make admission decisions. Each college has its own admission processes and policies, and they use scores differently. Here are the facts you need to know.
  2. Most Four-Year Colleges Use Test Scores in Their Admission Decisions
    SAT scores help colleges compare students from different high schools. Your scores show your strengths and readiness for college work. But remember standardized test scores are just one part of your college application, along with grades, course rigor, and recommendations.
  3. Test Scores Are Not the Most Important Factor
    When colleges use scores in admission decisions, they weigh the scores differently. But no matter which college you're applying to, good SAT scores are not the most important factor. Colleges give the most weight to your grades and the rigor of your classes.
  4. Most Colleges Publish Student Test-Score Information
    Some colleges publish the average scores of their students, and others show ranges. You can see how your scores compare if you're interested in a particular college. But keep in mind that most colleges admit students with a wide range of scores; some students always score above and some below the published scores. Think of these scores as a guide, not a cutoff.
  5. Admission Tests Let Colleges Find You
    When you sign up for the SAT, you get the chance to hear from colleges that have an interest in you based on your composite scores, grades, academic interests, and other characteristics. The SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, and PSAT 10 offer opportunities for you to indicate your desire to have your name shared with interested colleges.
  6. Colleges May Use Scores to Award Scholarships
    Most scholarship money—money you do not have to pay back—comes from colleges. Some colleges use your test scores, alone or in combination with other characteristics and achievements, to award their funds. Some colleges and universities may even automatically award you a scholarship if you earn a certain score. Other organizations and private companies that award scholarships may also require your test scores as part of their scholarship applications.
  7. Scores May Determine Placement in College Classes
    Admission tests, such as the SAT, evaluate the reading, writing, and math skills that you'll need in college. So some colleges use scores to place students in classes that are at the right level for them. SAT and ACT scores can also be used to identify students who may benefit from specific advisors or academic support in college.
  8. Scores Can Help Strengthen Your Application
    Many colleges are test optional now, which means students don't have to submit SAT or ACT scores along with their applications. If your scores are higher than the average SAT scores, however, submitting them could show your strengths as well as your interests. Although many four-year colleges and open-admission colleges, including community colleges, don't require these scores, they may use them for placement or scholarships.

    Colleges Consider Multiple Scores in Different Ways
    You decide who sees your scores because you're in charge of sending them. However, if you take the SAT more than once, you can often choose to send only your best scores. But each college sets its own policy for how it uses multiple scores:

    • Some colleges require all your scores.
    • Some colleges look at your highest combined scores from one test date.
    • Some colleges accept your highest section scores from any day you tested.

    Learn more about score reporting.

Get More Information
Every admission policy is different. Use trusted sources to do research before you apply. You can use College Search to find a college’s SAT score-use policy and score ranges — just visit the Applying area of any college’s profile. Or check out a college's official website to learn about its score-use policy and score ranges.

Learn more about how taking the SAT opens doors for you in 5 Ways the SAT Can Help You


What standardized tests do colleges look at?

Many colleges and universities have shifted from requiring standardized test scores as part of their admissions to optional test status. For you, this means it will depend on what college you're applying to. If the colleges you're applying to require standardized test scores, however, the two main test scores they’ll look at are your SAT and your ACT scores.

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What are the two tests you should take for college?

There are two tests that you should take for college: the SAT and the ACT.

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How many times can you take the SAT?

You can take the SAT as many times as you'd like, though most students take the SAT only once or twice. However, if you do take the SAT twice, colleges may pick the highest score, or they may ask for both scores.

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