If you have been putting off the ACT/SAT or are hoping to retake one, you need to know when you can take your last test so that your scores will arrive at your schools in time. In other words, when is the very latest you can take the SAT or ACT for your college applications?
Read on to find out when you can still take the SAT or ACT—and when you'd be too late. You might be surprised by how little time you have!
College Application Deadlines: General Info and Trends
Most regular decision college application deadlines are around January 1, though some are earlier in mid- to late December and some are as late as mid-January. I recommend keeping New Year's in mind as the general date your college applications will be due. (Note that if you are applying to a school early action or early decision, your application deadline will likely be much sooner!)
The standard date you find out your admission decision is April 1 (though some colleges release results earlier in March). But while admissions decisions are finalized in March, applications are being read and evaluated long before then. Typically, applications are read for the first time in January and maybe February, and decisions are made in February and March. This is why having your entire application submitted by the deadline, including your SAT/ACT scores, is so crucial.
In many cases, your application could be read before your parents get around to taking down the holiday decorations ...
In order for scores to arrive in time to be considered in January, the last ACT/SAT test dates are usually in December. (For the 2020-21 school year, this is the SAT on December 5 and the ACT on December 12.) December scores usually arrive in time to be considered during the initial application reads in January and February.
However, if you take the tests in February or March, your scores won't get to your schools until March or April, which is typically well after your application is read for the first time. (In early 2021, the ACT is on February 6 and the SAT is on March 13.)
Since there is no longer a January SAT test date, this means December really is your last chance for the SAT for almost all schools. While a handful of schools do accept the February ACT, these policies aren't the norm. Ideally, you want to finish your SAT/ACT testing before senior year so you can focus on applications exclusively.
If you're taking any of the final test dates, you have to make sure you put your colleges down to receive your scores when you're signing up for the last available test. In other words, don't wait to see your scores before you send them, or else it will be too late!
If there's a problem with your score reports or they get delayed, sometimes colleges will accept a screenshot or printed version of your test report sent from your guidance counselor as a provisional result. That said, this won't replace an official score report from the College Board or ACT, Inc., which needs to be sent along eventually.
Last SAT/ACT Test Dates: Advice for Your College Applications
If you're reading this as a junior or younger, aim to have your standardized testing done before senior year, or at the very least by the last October ACT/November SAT dates (this means the October 25th ACT and the November 7th SAT for the 2020-21 school year). This will make the application process less stressful since you'll only have to focus on applications, not testing. Studying for the ACT/SAT while also working on an your applications in December can be a real stressor and might result in subpar applications!
Keep in mind that if you're sending SAT/ACT scores from the last possible test date, you're taking a risk. If it's your first test score and it's not within your schools' average score ranges, it won't help your chances of admission.
It also won't look good if it's a retake and your score goes down. (While most schools focus on your highest test scores, some require students to send all SAT scores or all ACT scores and will take all scores, high or low, into consideration.) This is why we recommend having your testing done by senior year—including retakes.
If you really need to take one of the last possible ACT/SAT dates, plan ahead as much as possible so you have plenty of time to both study and work on your applications.
The Latest Possible ACT/SAT Dates for Top Schools
In this section, we'll be taking a look at the last possible ACT/SAT dates for top colleges. We'll also show you how to look up this information yourself for any school you're interested in applying to. (Note that, for the 2020/2021 admissions cycle many schools have suspended their ACT/SAT requirement due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, if you do choose to submit SAT or ACT scores, you still need to send them in by the deadlines, so these dates still hold as the last date you can take the ACT or SAT.)
Schools Whose Final Testing Date Is in December
The majority of schools we researched will accept the December ACT and December SAT, but no later SATs or ACTs. If any of your top schools are on this list, do your best to complete your testing as soon as possible!
You'll need to have your standardized tests completed by winter break if you're applying to any of these schools!
For regular decision, Amherst requires all materials to be received by January 4. This means you should aim for the December ACT or December SAT at the very latest if you are submitting test scores.
According to Brown's website, "Most first-year students choose to apply under our Regular Decision plan, which requires applying by January 5 (11:59 p.m. applicant's local time)." (emphasis mine).
Caltech lists December as its standardized testing deadline, meaning you can take the December ACT or SAT at the latest. Applications are due by January 3 for regular decision.
Everything has to be submitted by January 2 for Regular Admission for Cornell, which means your last-chance test dates for the SAT/ACT are in December.
At Dartmouth, because the regular decision deadline is January 2, the last possible SAT/ACT test dates for regular admission are in December.
Although Duke's last test date is December for both the ACT and SAT, the school will accept ACT scores from the February test date and consider them as additional scores in your application file. The regular decision deadline is January 4.
Georgetown's deadline is slightly later in January than those of many other top schools: "Regular Decision applicants should have all application materials postmarked by January 10" (emphasis mine). The December ACT and SAT are still the last test dates whose scores will arrive before the deadline.
There are two regular decision deadlines at Harvard: December 15 (the preferred deadline) and January 1 (the final deadline).
Harvard states on its admissions website, "Although it is possible to submit scores from tests taken as late as the December SAT and the February ACT, we recommend that you submit testing as early as possible" (emphasis mine).
However, the school also says, "Scores submitted before the end of November will allow us to begin our evaluation process for those submitting applications by December 15." So even though you can submit scores from December tests, the earlier you submit, the better!
At MIT, most parts of the application are due by January 1. Therefore, "you must take the required tests on or before the November test date for Early Action or the December test date for Regular Action. These are the latest scores that will reach the Admissions Committee in time for review."
Since the application deadline for regular decision is January 3, the latest tests you can take for Northwestern are the December ACT or SAT.
As the deadline for regular decision is January 1, "regular decision applicants must complete all SAT testing by the December test date. All ACT testing must be completed by the December test date."
For the regular admission deadline on January 2, Stanford's last test date is in December for both the ACT and SAT.
According to Penn's admissions website, the regular decision deadline is January 5, meaning the last test dates accepted are those in December for both the SAT and ACT.
Vanderbilt's website states the following: "For students applying under Early Decision II or Regular Decision (submission deadline January 1), the last opportunity to take the exam is the December administration" (emphasis mine).
"The last test date accepted will be the December testing," writes the WUSTL website. So at the latest, you can take the December SAT or ACT for Regular Decision (deadline January 2), or the October SAT or ACT for Early Decision (deadline November 1).
You have to take the ACT or SAT by December for it to be added to your file at Williams in time for the January 8 regular decision deadline.
The majority of college applicants are high school seniors, and most of the college application advice out there is aimed at them. But what do you do if you don't fall into this narrow category? Our eBook on how to prepare for and apply to college as a nontraditional student will walk you through everything you need to know, from the coursework you should have under your belt to how to get letters of recommendation when you're not a high school senior.
These next schools let you take an even later test—the February ACT!
Schools That Accept Testing Through February
Some top schools have even later testing deadlines and will accept the early February ACT. Again, these schools are in the minority, so do your best to complete your testing much earlier than February of your senior year!
UChicago says that it will accept January SAT scores and February ACT scores. However, since there is no longer a January SAT test date (it was replaced by the August date), your last possible SAT test date is actually the one in December. You'll still have the February ACT, though.
The deadline for regular decision is January 4.
The last testing dates Yale will accept are the December SAT and the February ACT. Applications for regular decision are due by January 2.
How to Look Up the Last ACT/SAT Date for Any School
We couldn't include the final SAT/ACT date for every single college in the country! Use this guide to learn how to look this info up anywhere you're applying.
First, search "[School Name] regular decision deadline" on Google.
I'm searching for Wellesley College's last possible SAT and ACT dates. The first link, "Decision Plans and Deadlines," looks promising, so I'll start there.
This search should pull up the page on the school's admissions site with regular decision dates and deadlines. The admissions page will typically list the last SAT/ACT dates a school will accept for consideration.
For Wellesley, the first link I found led to the following page with info about regular decision dates and deadlines, including for standardized tests:
For the regular decision deadline of January 8, Wellesley lists the last possible test dates for the SAT or ACT as "early December of your senior year."
If you're looking up a school and can't find a deadline page that lists SAT/ACT dates, check its FAQ page—there's often a question there about SAT/ACT testing. Look for questions such as "When is the latest I can take the SAT/ACT?" and "How long does it take for SAT/ACT scores to arrive?"
If there's no info about the last ACT/SAT dates on either your school's deadlines page or FAQ page (which is unlikely!), call the admissions office and ask about the last test date you can sign up for if applying regular decision.
Key Takeaways: The Last Test Dates for Regular Admissions
Most schools have regular decision admissions deadlines on or around January 1. These deadlines vary slightly depending on the school and can be as early as mid-December or as late as mid-January.
As a result, usually your absolute last chance to take the SAT or ACT is in December; however, it's advisable to opt for an earlier test date, if possible. If you decide to take the December test, be sure to choose your score recipients as you register for the test. This ensures that your scores will arrive at your schools before the January deadline.
While results from a December test should arrive in time, it's best to take the SAT/ACT as early as possible—typically starting in the fall of your junior year. This way you have plenty of time to retake the test should you want to get a higher score.
Still have to make serious changes to improve your SAT/ACT scores? Get top strategies for each section with our individualized guides to SAT Reading, Writing, and Math, as well as ACT English, Math, Reading, and Science.
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.