When Your ACT/SAT Scores Don't Make the Cut

These last few weeks, we have been talking about test anxiety, both in relation to reducing it (Post 1: Tips to Excel with Test Anxiety) and potential underlying issues (Post 2: When to Worry About Test Anxiety).  The other question I receive all the time from concerned parents and students is:

What If My ACT/ SAT Score Doesn't Make the Cut?

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Here are some helpful tips if your scores just are not getting to where you need to be after hard-work and possible tutoring.

1. Know about each test- There always seems to be one test each student is stronger in, either the ACT/SAT. While both are trying to measure a student's aptitude for first-year college equivalency, the way they assess is quite different. This past article on Understanding What ACT/SAT Means for You helps guide you through the process. By starting early, you can determine which test you score higher in and from then on focus on that one test.

2. Consider Test Optional Colleges-  Not every college believes these standardized tests are the best determination for student success- they believe "You Are More Than a Score". Many top universities throughout the country have a test-optional policy- link to test-optional colleges. 

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3. Consider Holistic Review or Selective Universities- The next tier of college admissions are many universities view an application from all angles, such as using counselor and teacher recommendations, academics (including level of rigor), your essay, community volunteer work, school activities, and ethnicity/ background, so the ACT/ SAT is a small part of it. This is called "selective admissions"- typically if the school has an essay, it is a selective admission process. 

4. Tell Admissions about your Learning Disability- If you have had an IEP or 504 and have excelled in the classroom or had setbacks until you were diagnosed, these might help explain why you did not fair as well on the ACT/SAT. Universities often seek out to have an exclusive, diverse student population including learning disabilities. The most brilliant essay I read was a student writing about his ADHD and safer pharmaceutical drugs utilizing current research to help others like him- he landed a top scholarship at a prestigious university.

5. Look at Satellite Campuses or Partnership Programs- Many colleges have multiple campuses or agreements with other colleges to enter into their programs. For example, University of South Florida has 3 campuses, and their entrance ACT/SAT rates are different at each one- you may make the cut at one but not the other. Also, schools like University of Florida Engineering program has partnered with Santa Fe College and State College of Florida. This is the same with top colleges and universities throughout the country- sometimes doing two years to an undergraduate program where your scores meet the guidelines, allows you a guaranteed spot in top graduate programs.

6. Consider an Associates of Arts or Associates of Science Program- Working at a state college myself, I see daily how advantageous a state/community college can be for first-time in college students or adult students returning to school. Students are choosing this model in higher numbers than ever before because of the small classroom environment, increased financial aid, lower tuition, ease of transferability, better access to programs and sports, and proximity to home. 

7. Ask for an Appeal- Maybe you were denied because your test scores just weren't high enough. If it is a not a college that typically asks for letters of recommendation or alternative academic information, I would ask if there is a way to appeal by submitting additional documentation. I had a student who had left out her learning disability in fear of denial, but once I wrote a recommendation explaining the circumstance, they reconsidered and reversed the original decision.

In the end, student's need to realize that an ACT/SAT score is not the end-all-be-all. There are many pathways to the summit, and there are many options for students today-more than ever before.