So, you’ve planned, prepared, studied, and taken the ACT or SAT. Now what? First, have a little party – you did it! You made it through college entrance exams. Woot! Read on to find out what you should do after taking the college entrance exams.
What to Do After Taking the College Entrance Exams
Once you have taken the test, it will take about 3-4 weeks to get your SAT scores back and about 10 days for the ACT. Both tests allow you to view your test scores online. Scores are sent to colleges by the testing boards. You do not send your test scores directly to colleges. When you sign up for either test, you can select four schools that will receive your scores for free. After those four, you’ll have to pay for additional colleges. Each time you take the test, you tell the testing board where to send the scores.
Testing Multiple Times
Advice about the number of times you should take the ACT/SAT varies from only once to as many times as you can, to no more than three times. It’s hard to make a blanket statement of “every student should take the test x times or no more than y times.” Consider taking the exam two times, unless you do exceptionally well on the first try.
To determine how many times you should take the tests, you need to be realistic and assess your goals (both your score goal and your college goal) and your scores after the first round of testing. Did you do as well as you wanted or should have? Is there room for significant improvement? Will your scores get you into your dream school, are you right on the borderline, or do you not have a chance? Most universities list the average test score for their incoming freshman class. Where are your scores compared to the list? Finally, did something happen on testing day that may have affected your test taking? Maybe you were so stressed out, that you couldn’t focus.
Honest answers to those questions can help you determine if you should take the tests again. Take an analytical look at your scores, where you would like to go and what you would like to study. Obviously, a competitive major in a competitive school, say engineering at MIT, is going to need much higher test scores than other schools and majors.
Our oldest took the ACT twice. She took it in December, and did great on two tests and above average on two. But, she had a fairly large discrepancy between the two sets of scores, and she was applying to a competitive school. She was also under the weather when she took the exam, so it was reasonable to take the test a second time. Her scores increased, evened out, and she was accepted into the competitive school.
The downside of taking multiple tests is that now you are dealing with different scores from different dates. For example, you may have done fabulous on the SAT Math at your first sitting, but your SAT Reading was better at the second sitting. Which score does a college look at?
Colleges use different scoring strategies, so you really need to do your research. Some will take all test results into consideration, while some will take your highest overall score, and some will create a superscore (or super composite). The superscore takes your best section scores from different testing dates and creates a composite score. This Princeton Review article does a good job of explaining superscores and has links to colleges that accept it.
So, you’ve finally finished with your testing, and you know your scores and superscores like nobody’s business. Now, you need to decide where to apply.
Colleges will charge a non-refundable fee to apply, which on average is about $50. The majority of applications are completed online through the university’s website, and about 700 colleges use the Common Application for admissions. With the Common App, you complete one online application, and can then apply to numerous schools using that one application. You’ll still have to pay the application fee for each school, but it certainly simplifies the application process.
CollegeSimply has lots of useful information as you begin to seriously look at where you want to apply. The site offers rankings and reviews of colleges, application deadlines listed by the month, college admission selectivity (colleges with the highest/lowest acceptance rates), popular schools with a certain ACT/SAT score, and lists of colleges you can get into based on your scores. Obviously, you’ll want to verify the information you find on this site with the actual college’s website. Don’t rely on a third-party website.
Additionally, check out U.S. News & World Reports College Rankings. It’s the gold standard of college rankings, with the national universities list and others like “A-Plus Schools for B Students”.
I hope that clarifies this step in the college bound path. You have a lot of decisions ahead of you, but how exciting!
Other posts in this series:
- High School Student’s Guide to College Entrance Exams
- 10 Free Resources to Help Prepare to the PSAT/ACT/SAT