2 years ago
Admissions Advice

What is the most important factor in determining whether to submit your SAT or ACT?

25 Karma points to the best contribution comment.

I've been reading lots of questions and answers about this and there is a lot of misinformation that started 2 years ago with the test-optional policies. Originally, many sites including this one had a simple rule. If your test score is within 60 points of the lower band 25% percentile of the middle acceptance range for the SAT, you should submit it. And if your ACT test score was within 3 points of the lower 25% band you should submit it.

This recommendation was wrong and when the results came in after the 1st pandemic cycle, we learned that in general, all colleges had reported higher bands of both SAT and ACT test scores. Why? Those with low test scores went test-optional and didn't follow this rule. And most admits who submitted, submitted very good test scores pushing the bar higher for both the SAT and ACT. This continued the last cycle as well. And it's fair to say that the middle 50% for all top colleges has never been higher.

If I told you that there is a simply better way to determine whether to submit that works for all applicants, I would be doing you all a huge disservice. And that is what all the college websites and consultants are still telling students. Most still recommend not to submit unless you are greater than or equal to the 25% low band. I vehemently disagree with this.

When you are applying to a T50 school, there are typically going to be 4 groups. These are

1. ALDCs - Recruited Athletes, Legacy, Development Donor kids, Children of Faculty (+VIPs)

2. HOOKED - Black, LatinA, Indigenous, (Marginalized - Trans, Disabled), Low income, 1st Gen



And when you apply to a T50 Public University they split up everyone into resident and non-resident so there is 5th group


Imagine you run College Admissions at an Ivy College and you have to give your 20 admissions readers a Test Optional rubric. What do you think that looks like given that you know that you have instructed them to shape the incoming class with equitable, inclusive, accessible, and diverse directive specific to that Ivy College?

Let's say the middle 50% SAT/ACT scores on the most recent common data set for this school are 1490/1560 and 34/35. What might the rubric look like then for these 4 categories? I've seen many Naviance scatter plots for the best schools in the country and I will tell you that it's not what you think.

For a school like this it's going to look like this for the most part:

1. ALDCs - 1250-1370, 26-29

2. HOOKED - 1300-1400, 28-30

3. OVER-REP'D - 1520-1580, 34-36

4. INTERNATIONAL - 1450-1520, 32-34

And if it were a Public, then there would be another dimension where NON-residents would have to score 70-120 points higher on the SAT and 2 points higher on the ACT.

So why am I bringing this up? I think it's important for every HS student here to understand that each college has its own whacky criteria with regard to test scores. WHO you are, WHAT you look like, WHAT your race is, WHAT HS you attended, WHERE your parents went to college, HOW rich you are, WHAT your connection to the college is, HOW famous you are, HOW talented you are as an athlete, HOW talented you are as a musician, dancer, performer, singer MATTERS.

The gatekeepers are like bouncers at an exclusive nightclub. If you are rich, famous, connected, and talented you get to cut the line ahead of everyone else. If your looks make that party more interesting, you get to cut the line. But if you look and act and behave like most people that are dying to get into the club you wait in line hoping that they will pick you up before the club closes because it's important that you said you got in and had a good time.

I want everyone to know that college admissions are not a meritocratic process. Whoever is telling you that you need this or that score is not aware of the complexities or nuances of college admissions. And this is why Harvard and all the other Ivys and Elite colleges reject so many people with perfect grades and test scores and ECs. At the end of the day, you belong to a GROUP of other applicants. And like GROUP sequencing when you get on a Plane, you are either group 1,2,3,4,5, or bumped off the flight.

Think about this for a minute and reflect upon your own college admissions journey. You might be focused on the wrong thing right now and better off making your essays the best they can be versus trying to get a higher SAT or ACT test score.

I AGREE that test optional targets are group segmented
I DISAGREE and think that the 25% percentile rule is best
I'm CONFUSED and am going to reassess my priorities
I have not IDEA of WHAT you are talking about.
Poll closed29 votes
You can earn an 🚀 Above and Beyond award if the original poster thinks your reply takes the conversation to the next level!
🎤2 years ago

Nearly 1/3 of the people who voted disagree with this notion without commenting on a viable reason defending their viewpoint. This seems to suggest that having high test scores and submitting them is deeply ingrained into their mindset. If you think your high SAT or high ACT is such an extremely valuable data point, I think you truly do not believe in holistic admissions and the reality that there exists preferential treatment at most private colleges that use Race, ALDCs, and other "hooked" criteria.


What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
+ add school
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Community Guidelines

To keep this community safe and supportive:

  1. Be kind and respectful!
  2. Keep posts relevant to college admissions and high school.
  3. Don’t ask “chance-me” questions. Use CollegeVine’s chancing instead!

How karma works