What Happens If You Don’t Take the SAT?
Many colleges and universities have made the SAT and ACT tests optional for the 2021 admissions cycle because of challenges born of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The list of schools to have done so include the entire Ivy League:
University of Pennsylvania
Elite schools such as Stanford, Duke, MIT, the University of Chicago, and the entire University of California system.
It’s a decision that’s left loads of high school seniors with their heads reeling as they try to understand what it means for their college applications.
So what does it mean?
What happens if you choose to take them up on their offer and forego taking the SAT?
The policy of being test-optional is so new that its actual impact on admissions decisions is still largely unknown.
Although, if you've been following media coverage of this topic, you may have gotten the impression that there is no reason to even take the SAT when applying to college this year. We strongly disagree.
College Admissions Without SAT Scores
To better understand this new test-optional environment, let's take a quick look at what top-ranked schools are saying about it.
Harvard's statement on the new policy explains the reasoning behind it and also notes that it is temporary:
"Harvard College will allow students to apply for admission to the Class of 2025 without requiring standardized test scores. We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has created insurmountable challenges in scheduling tests for all students, particularly those from modest economic backgrounds, and we believe this temporary change addresses these challenges."
Reading between the lines, you may also perceive that the test-optional policy is focused mostly on helping those from less affluent, more underprivileged backgrounds.
Over in Palo Alto, the stated policy is that "Stanford will review applications with or without standardized test scores, leaving the decision in the hands of the applicant. There will be no penalty for choosing not to submit scores."
Reading further, Stanford's statement adds, "We are committed to a holistic review of all candidates, taking into account the vast array of information provided in and with each student’s application. We expect to reinstate the SAT or ACT testing requirement for the Class of 2026, entering in Fall 2022."
Like Harvard, Stanford views this as a temporary measure and plans to look closely at other aspects of applicants' backgrounds when making its admissions decisions.
Most other elite schools offer variations on these themes in their test-optional announcements. Princeton calls it a "pause on standardized testing," while Duke notes that "challenges associated with standardized testing fall disproportionately among those with the fewest resources."
Duke’s announcement continues by saying, "We will continue to consider SAT and ACT scores as part of the application of students who choose to submit them."
Testing Is Still Relevant
These statements make it sound as if you can just skip the tests and apply without them. While this is technically true, for many applicants, standardized tests will be just as important this year—perhaps even more so—than in a typical year.
Why do you ask? Well, let's consider two important facts:
1. Top colleges will still consider SAT scores if you do submit them
2. Making them optional is a measure primarily intended to make the application process fairer for underprivileged and underrepresented applicants.
If you fall into a group that is overrepresented in the applicant pool, you still need to take advantage of every available opportunity to differentiate yourself from the vast number of other applicants in your group. One of these opportunities is the SAT.
Overrepresented applicant groups at Ivy League and other elite schools include students of Caucasian and many Asian and South Asian ethnic backgrounds.
Overrepresentation leads to increased competition which raises the bar for all applicants in the group. Now imagine you're an Ivy League admissions officer looking at two almost identical applications from an overrepresented group, one with perfect SAT scores and one with no scores at all. Who would you choose?
Take the SAT this year and make sure you score as high as you possibly can. The requirement has been temporarily relaxed, but you cannot relax with it or you’ll lose your edge.
How Long Does It Take to Send SAT Scores?
Now that we've convinced you that the SAT should still be an important part of your college applications, let's break down the timeline for receiving scores and having them sent to the schools you choose.
According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, your scores will typically be available within two to four weeks after your test date.
You'll receive an email notifying you when your scores are ready, and you can then access them online via the College Board website.
If you take the SAT with Essay, your Essay score will usually be reported a few days after the multiple-choice score.
It's up to you to notify the College Board of which schools you want to receive your scores. They will then be sent to those colleges within 10 days after you get them.
If you'd like your scores sent faster, choose the Rush Reporting option, which sends them out within 1-4 days of being released...for an additional fee, of course.
Keep in mind that schools will generally require that your official SAT scores to be delivered to them directly by the College Board, so printing your scores and sending them in yourself is not an option.
It’s your responsibility to make sure you select recipient schools in a timely manner, making sure there is plenty of time to meet their application deadline.
When Should I Send My SAT Scores?
If you're applying Early Decision or Early Action to any schools—and you should be—most of those deadlines are in early or mid-November.
Obviously, you need to make sure you know the exact deadlines of all the schools you're applying to. To be on the safe side, the very latest we recommend taking the SAT to meet these deadlines is August or early September.
Regular Admission deadlines are typically in early January, and for your scores to be received in time, you should take your test no later than October or early November.
If you're at all concerned about your scores arriving by the deadline, remember you have the Rush Reporting option to ensure they arrive quickly.
After your scores have been sent, it's also a good idea to check with each college on your list to make sure they received them.
How Bentham Admissions Helps
At Bentham, we certainly understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the college application process more challenging than ever.
Even in these unusual times, you must prioritize every means possible to distinguish yourself from other applicants vying for the same coveted places at top schools. This includes taking and scoring well on the SAT and ACT.
Bentham is here to help with a full range of tutoring and coaching services so you can successfully navigate the testing and college application process and land a position at the best university possible.