Should I take the ACT again?
I am currently in my junior year of high school and I am really trying to get into an ivy league, specifically Yale. My GPA is a 4.0 (unweighted) and I partake in a multitude of extracurriculars; overall, my profile is pretty decent. However, I have taken the ACT twice and got a 32 both times, with a super score of 33, which for my reach schools is below average. I am wondering if taking the ACT again will hurt or help me, especially because I didn't really study the first two times, and if it's worth the money, as most schools are staying test optional for the 2021-22 application process.
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If your goal is to get into Yale or an Ivy league, you have to pay attention to what's going on in this current admissions cycle.
1.) Applications are up. I think Harvard got 42% more applications, Yale 38% more applications, and Columbia up 51%. Why? Everyone thought it would be easier to apply without a test score.
2.) There are fewer spots now and will be fewer spots next year as well. Why? Because many students would rather wait a year and be on a physical campus taking classes versus zoom calls. A huge part of attending an Ivy is to be part of the Ivy culture, traditions, and campus life. Recall that 341 Yale Class of '24 took a gap year and 349 Harvard incoming frosh took a gap year. This past fall only 1257 Yalies enrolled and last year 1554 enrolled. So this cycle and next there will be fewer spots since all these admits want to come back to school and you can only take 1 year off under deferred admission.
3.) Last year fewer international full pay students applied because a.) it wasn't safe and b.) they couldn't get student VISAs under the Trump Administration. Now that COVID-19 may be under control by this upcoming Fall, I think there will be more Int'l students interested in matriculating and applying for the '21-'22 admissions cycle.
4.) With more applications and fewer spots, admit rates are at historical lows for both ED, SCREA, and the upcoming 4/6/21 RD decisions. Harvard admits rate dropped in half, Yale by 50%, and Columbia (guessing 50% or more). And since the bulk of additional applications is for RD, you will see Harvard RD admit rates like 2%, and Yale and Columbia in the 3s for the next 2 cycles. I wouldn't be surprised if UPenn, Brown, have admit-rates in the high 5s, low 6s.
So if you read between the lines you know that the Ivy environment is hyper-competitive and you have more competition from the US and abroad. Therefore if you do not have a test score to submit, you have to have all the other checkboxes as 1s or 2s, no 3s. Each Ivy has its own scorecard system but suffices it to say that the holistic approach is code for making sure all the admits have enough high marks across many dimensions otherwise they do not make the cut. Harvard has over 200 criteria that play into their scorecard system so if you can't just be "pretty decent", you have to be excellent or outstanding.
This cycle CollegeVine was recommending that you submit your ACT test score if it's within 3 points of the middle 50%. Personally, I never understood the logic of that for Ivys or Elites where the competition is fierce. Perhaps for State Schools or T100 schools. For example, Yale was like 33-35 so they were saying it was okay to apply with a 30. I didn't take that advice nor would I recommend anyone apply to an Ivy with a 30. Once you see the admit rates for Yale next week and the other Ivys you'll realize that both SAT and ACT scores and UWGPA will be higher across all Ivys, not lower.
During my junior year, I had taken the ACT one time and scored 33 ACT composite. According to my CV, that should have been enough to apply to any college, and mind you I had superior leadership, community service, and other ECs, and varsity sports team captain. But I felt I needed a 35. So I talked it over with my dad and we decided to invest in the online ACT program with SuperTutorTV and happily paid the fee. Brooke Hanson is an expert in helping smart kids take these kinds of tests better. It's all amount timing, risk assessment, logic, and understanding how to attack the test. After focusing on the bits I didn't quite get, I took the ACT again and got a 35 composite. Now I felt confident to apply wherever and felt that no one would reject me because of my test score.
I don't know what getting into Yale means to you or your family. For some people, if they could stack the odds in their favor for $1000, $10000, or $100000 in legitimate tutoring they would do it because you only go to 1 undergrad school for most intents and purposes. It's much harder to transfer into Yale (less than 2% make it.) For other applicants, they are completely indifferent to which Ivy, Elite, or State School they get into because they just want to get a degree in so and so like CS, or Finance and start working.
I did get accepted ED into Columbia College and honestly don't what helped the most in my application file. I don't know if my essays, my course rigor, my ECs, my recommendations, or my test scores pushed me into the "Yes" column. I will not know until I matriculate and ask to see my admissions file. But my point is that I felt that if I could improve something then I should do all I could to differentiate myself from someone that didn't push themselves to the limit.
The colleges, HS counselors, College Portals all want you to believe that you don't need a test score to attend an Ivy. I think that is true but if they really wanted to create a level playing field for all applicants across all incomes, races, demographics, etc, they all would have gone test-blind like CalTech. But they didn't. If there are 20-30 applicants for each available spot this cycle and next, and 1/2 of them have no test score, I will still bet that those that have exactly the same attributes will get in with a high test score over those that do not. Why? Because it takes the risk out of the admissions office. There is a high correlation between 99% percentile test scores and getting great grades Freshman year. If colleges can safeguard retention, they will do so.
I can't tell you what to do, but I can share what I did and where I'm going so you can make up your own mind for yourself.
It totally depends on what schools you are aiming for. If you are shooting for schools like ivy leagues, you should probably take it again. Many schools don't require you to submit all your scores so you can just submit your best one. Even if schools say they're test optional, they weigh testing heavily. This year, 93% of accepted EA applicants to Georgetown submitted SAT scores. If you get the chance, I would aim for 34+ for top colleges.
There is no simple answer to this question. Each person would give different perspective and in the end you have to decide if you have the time to put in extra effort into taking it again. It is hardest to go from 33 to 35/36 without putting in significant effort of min 2 months to just practice, practice to get your timing right.
Summer before senior year is crucial time to show colleges extracurricular outside of school on what you want to pursue like research or internship or job or developing a spike. Doing this and you still have time to study for ACT then go for it. Good luck.
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