Monday, May 4, 2015
Dear Mr. Bradshaw:
I am a junior in high school and not sure if I should take the SAT or ACT for my college application process. Which one of these tests do top colleges prefer?
Until recently, the answer would automatically be "Take the SAT." However, the ACT has gained greater acceptance among colleges so it pays to understand the advantages and drawbacks of taking each test. These are questions that you need to answer before you start the process of preparing for the test.
Let's get one worry out of the way — you do not have to take both tests. For the most part, both are considered equal and you can send in one score or the other with most applications. That said, there are a few things that you, as an applicant, should weigh before deciding which test to take.
For starters, the SAT is changing its format in spring of 2016. No one is quite certain what the result of these changes will be. The SAT is slightly more useful to top colleges because it breaks down into 2,400 points vs. 36 points for the ACT. That is one reason top schools have favored the SAT, if ever so slightly. We will have to wait to see the score breakdown for the new SAT.
The ACT is most popular at Southern and Midwestern high schools, and is broadly accepted for state colleges, whereas SAT scores have traditionally been favored by elite schools on the East and West coasts. You should note that in recent years potential employers require SAT scores as part of the employment process. I do not know of a company that asks for ACT scores and you must weigh this in your decision about which test to take. Some employers require SAT scores even if you graduated from college 10 years ago.
I believe that the SAT scores will be helpful if you're seeking a dual degree. Because of the greater difficulty in earning a two-major degree, colleges tend to see the SAT as proof of mastering a test more similar to an IQ test. The ACT, which is less theoretical, is based more on practical knowledge learned in high school. Dual degrees are impressive to graduate schools and scoring well on the SAT carries more punch with college deans who must approve your application for an double major.
In my opinion, the SAT is the better test if you are considering a post-graduate education. Based upon my experience at having tutored both tests, the SAT (because it is the harder of the two) is the test that indicates that you are serious about going to a top school.
When a student asks me which test to take I always question how focused are they on what they want to do after college. The law (LSAT), medical (MCAT), MBA (GMAT) or graduate school (GRE) tests are more similar to the SAT than the ACT. While the ACT is accepted by most undergraduate schools, if you are going to commit to a demanding study schedule to master a test I suggest you learn how to ace the SAT — the payoff can be greater in the long run.
Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
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