applying for college

If you have a close relative who’s planning on applying to college at some point in the next 10 years, you’ve probably already heard about the announced changes to the SAT. I tweeted last week that the fervor surrounding this announcement is one more reminder that the three biggest letters in college admissions are S-A-T. Here on our blog, we’ve discussed the potential effect of these changes on companies that offer test prep. And if you keep an eye on our Facebook page, you’ll see a handful of other comments and articles related to the new SAT roll-out. There’s a lot to take in.

With so much out there, it’s hard to know the specific ways in which these changes will affect you when it comes time to apply to college. Should you be nervous? Excited? Cautious? Here are a few important points to keep in mind as you assess what the new SAT means for you:

  1. If you’re graduating before 2017, peruse the articles just for fun, because these changes won’t affect you. If you’re slated to graduate in 2017 or later, keep reading.
  2. The SAT is moving back to a 1600 scale by making the writing portion of the test optional. Since the writing test was introduced in 2005, students have heard mixed messages from colleges on the writing section. While some schools gave writing equal standing with the math and critical reading sections, others treated it as a glorified subject test. Now that the writing section is optional, you don’t have to wonder about the importance of the writing section in the selection process: if a school cares about your writing score, they’ll require or recommend that you take the optional section of the test.
  3. Because some colleges are likely to recommend or require the “optional” writing test in much the same way that they currently ask for subject tests, it’s important for you to be clear on their expectations when you register for the SAT. If you’re unsure whether colleges to which you will apply require the writing score, just take it! If no schools on your list expect it, it won’t hurt you. A good score could even be to your benefit.
  4. As Karen Crowley pointed out last week, we may see higher SAT scores across the board in the first few years as College Board tries to calibrate the new test content. If you’re a great test taker who wants to set yourself apart from others, it could be prudent to take the ACT rather than the SAT, as its scoring scale is time-tested. Students who aren’t great test takers may benefit from inflated SAT scores in the first few iterations of the test. Depending on the schools to which he may apply, it may even be a good idea for a second-semester junior to take both tests. Before carving out a plan for testing, make sure you are aware of school-specific testing policies, as many schools require all scores in the admissions process.
  5. The sweeping changes to the SAT have purportedly been made in order to bring the test into alignment with the content you learn in school, particularly the Common Core curriculum. This should reinforce the fact that your academic coursework is the most important aspect of your college application. In addition to earning quality grades for top performance, students now have the added benefit of picking up content in class that they can use for the test.
  6. Finally, keep in mind that there are an increasing number of schools that have test-optional or test-flexible admissions policies. If all of this talk of testing stresses you out, consult the internet for a list of schools that do not require standardized tests for admission. You’ll find there are plenty of terrific schools out there that will never ask, “What are your scores?”

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Written by Ian Fisher
Ian Fisher is an experienced educational consultant, part of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Ian received his master’s in policy, organization, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Ian worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College. Visit our website to learn more about Ian Fisher.