The Real Role of Tests in Your College Application

Most four-year colleges consider applicants’ scores on college admission tests when deciding whom to accept. Test scores are just one part of your college application. College admission officers give the most weight and importance to your high school grades and whether you’re challenging yourself.

What Are College Admission Tests?

You may know college admission tests by name — the SAT, SAT Subject Tests and the ACT. These tests, also called college entrance exams, are designed to measure students’ skills and help colleges evaluate how ready students are for college-level work.

How Do Colleges Use Test Scores?

Admission tests apply a common standard to everyone. This helps colleges evaluate and compare the preparation of students who go to different high schools. All schools do not offer the same academic programs, learning environments or even expectations. Colleges look at your test scores, along with your high school grades and courses, to see how well prepared you are for college-level work.

What Else Do Colleges Consider?

College admission officers try to get a complete picture of who you are, what you’ll bring to their campus and how you might do on their campus. They look at many parts of your application besides your test scores, such as your:

  • High school grades
  • High school courses
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Recommendation letters
  • Application essays

In fact, these other elements — especially your grades and the classes you've taken — are usually the most important factors, even more important than your test scores. Colleges want to see if you’ve challenged yourself and built a strong academic foundation.

How Important Are Scores to Colleges?

The importance of test scores in the admission process varies from college to college and depends on an institution’s admission approach and policies. Each college has its own policy. Some colleges, including more-selective colleges, may place a high level of importance on test scores — within the context of the other parts of your application. Other colleges, including many community colleges, may not require a test or use your scores at all. If you have questions about how a particular college uses test scores, check its admission website or contact the admission office.