The question I am asked most often by parents and students is how heavily weighted test scores are in the college admissions process.  There are so many myths and mixed messages swirling around these days that aren’t in line with reality, so I thought I’d try to provide a little clarity.

For years (decades really), we’ve all been told a very similar narrative about what to do to get into a great college.  Here’s a short list that I’m sure you’ve heard more times than you can count.

  • Take tough classes and carry a high GPA
  • Do extracurriculars AND be a leader in them
  • Volunteer
  • Develop strong relationships with your teachers
  • Get involved in sports and fine arts

Where is the SAT and ACT in this message?

The hard truth is that more students are applying to colleges and universities than ever before and admissions teams have to have a simple, methodical way of whittling those applications down to those that they believe will be successful and those they want to take a deeper look at.

Here’s a few things to help put this into perspective.

  • In 2017, colleges and universities received a staggering 10.2mil applications, up from just 4.9mil in 2002.
  • The 4-year degree has essentially become the norm.
  • The increase in applications has allowed the schools to be more selective than they ever have been.
  • It’s easier than ever to apply now because of the Common App, which allows students to apply to nearly every college and university with the click of a button.

So, how do small admissions teams, with little time and few resources, evaluate thousands of applications?  They do it by looking at two key metrics – test scores and GPA’s.

There’s also a new policy that some of these schools are adopting that is adding another layer of confusion into the mix, and that is the “test-optional” policy.  While there is so much to say about test-optional admissions policies and how wildly different these schools define “test-optional”, just know that it is not what it seems.  For the many schools that have now adopted their own “test-optional “ policy, there is not a single one that has said that they won’t consider the test scores of an applicant if submitted with the application.

There were more SAT sign-up’s this year than in any previous year that the SAT has been offered, even with some schools moving to “test-optional”.  Think about that.

The SAT and ACT are still incredibly important in today’s higher education admissions process.  There’s just no way that schools can evaluate their applications by any other method.  And with that, I’ll leave you with just a few examples of the average SAT scores at schools across the country.


  • UCLA – 1400
  • University of Michigan – 1430
  • NYU – 1413
  • University of Florida – 1360
  • UT Austin – 1360