How Important Is An SAT Score?

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If you're applying to colleges, you're probably at least somewhat stressed out about taking the SAT. But is your stress justified? This blog post will let you know just how important your SAT score really is in the college admissions process.

SAT Scores: Be All and End All or Not?

As the SAT is a major part of the college admissions process, it can cause quite a bit of stress for applicants. Between preparing for the SAT, taking practice tests, and taking the real test, students (and parents) invest quite a bit of time, money, energy, and emotion into the SAT process. But is this commitment proportionate to the actual value of a good SAT score? Read on to find out.

The SAT is just a part of college applications

SAT Score: Just One Factor Out of Many

To get a sense of the importance of SAT scores, put yourself in the mindset of a college admissions officer. When deciding whether or not to admit students to your university, you want to try to put together as complete a picture of who they are as possible. To that end, there are many factors to consider, including grades, essays, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, interviews, and so on. The SAT is just one factor out of many.

Take it from admissions officers themselves. According to Marilyn McGrath, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard College, ''Generally speaking, the SAT is not very important.'' Jarrid Whitney, executive director of admissions and financial aid at the California Institute of Technology agrees: ''The SAT is still just one part of the entire package… It doesn't drive our decisions.'' This sentiment is echoed over and over in this USA Today article from 2013.

A college application

Standardized Tests: an Imperfect System

One reason why college admissions officers don't put too much weight into SAT scores is that they know that standardized testing is an imperfect system. The fact of the matter is that some students have an advantage (usually financial) when it comes to preparing for and taking the SAT. Thankfully, this factor has not gone unnoticed. Marilyn McGrath for one is ''fully aware that standardized tests are not a perfect measure… Some people perform very well on exams and others don't and we understand that.''

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University agrees, pointing out that ''the SATs and other similar tests, they're useful to us in terms of understanding a student's academic preparation… But they still correlate with family income. If there was a way to have them be less influenced by the degree of educational and social advantage a student has, that would be better for the admissions process.''

So if you simply don't have the resources that it takes to prepare for the SAT in the same way that some of your classmates might, don't worry. Admissions officers understand that you might be at a disadvantage for this particular part of the college application process.

Screenings and Financial Aid Decisions

So how is the SAT taken into account, then? According to College Vine, it's most relevant at the beginning and at the end of the application review process. Some schools use the SAT as a screening tool to help narrow down the number of applications for serious consideration. To that end, an extremely low SAT score can decrease your chances of being taken into consideration.

Further, universities sometimes use SAT scores to help them make final decisions after they've finished all of the other aspects of an application review. If they need to make a choice between two otherwise identical students who've scored a 1600 and a 2300, respectively, the SAT will factor into that decision.

A student takes the SAT

SAT Score Takeaways

So what's the takeaway here? Well, if you're not very good at taking standardized tests, or you're worried about your SAT score for any other reason, focus your energies on making the other parts of your application as compelling as possible. You can absolutely impress an admissions committee, even with a ''sub-par'' SAT score. In fact, some schools, like Wesleyan, The George Washington University, and Albright College, don't even require applicants to take the SAT.

As long as your SAT score is decent, and other parts of your application, like your extracurricular activities and letters of recommendation, are impressive and tell the story of a good university candidate, you can breathe a little easier and not worry about your SAT score too much. Whew!

Check out's test prep resources for an easy, online SAT study solution.

By Daisy Rogozinsky
March 2019

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