Your SAT/ACT score isn't a one-trick pony.
Wondering why your SAT/ACT scores are important? They’re used for more than just college admissions.
Get a list here of who uses SAT/ACT scores, and why. You may be surprised how late into life your SAT/ACT scores can follow you!
Not surprisingly, your SAT/ACT score is a very big part of the admissions process. In fact, hour for hour, studying for either the SAT/ACT could be the most efficient way to improve your college admissions chances. But why?
SAT/ACT scores are so important because while GPA and class difficulty varies from school to school, every student takes either the SAT or ACT. It’s easier for college admissions officers to compare students from different cities or states by using the ACT/SAT, rather than their GPA. After all, a 4.0 could mean very different things at different schools, but a 36 on the ACT looks impressive no matter what.
Of course, many colleges use holistic admission processes, meaning they also consider your GPA, class schedule, extracurricular activities, essays, and more when making your admission decision. But out of all of these factors, the SAT/ACT is one of the most, if not the most, important one. This is why the vast majority of colleges require an SAT/ACT score to apply.
There are exceptions: schools that have no standardized tests required or flexible standardized testing. Some well-known ones include NYU, Bryn Mawr and many of the other seven sisters colleges, and George Washington University. But for now these are the exception and not the rule! So definitely plan on studying hard for either the SAT or the ACT for the best shot at your dream school.
Freshman Year Course Placement
Furthermore, some schools use the SAT/ACT for first-year course placement. So beyond just helping you get admitted to college, your SAT/ACT score could affect your first-year class schedule!
To take an example, let’s look at the University of Nevada. They use SAT/ACT scores to place students in their first chemistry, math, and English classes.
To look at just one subject, for the freshmen English class, placement is as follows, based on Writing section scores:
English 102: ACT 30 + / SAT 680 +
So even if you have a high enough score to get into a college, the higher your score, the higher your class placement could be.
If you’re curious about a school you want to apply to, and whether or not it uses the ACT/SAT for class placement, look up “[Name of College/University] First Year Course Placement.” Some colleges have their own placement tests, and still others use AP/IB scores instead.
Your SAT/ACT score is often an important criterion for scholarship selection. So not only can your ACT/SAT score get you into college, it could help you pay for it!
We’ll break this discussion down into private and school-run merit scholarships.
Private scholarships are scholarships funded by organizations, companies, or individuals. Many private scholarships, especially large ones, require an application from interested students.
Just like for college admissions, the SAT/ACT is a standard barometer of success for all students – which is why private scholarships often include SAT/ACT score on their applications. Requiring the SAT/ACT on applications allows private scholarships to compare students from different schools. Generally, the higher your SAT/ACT score, the higher your odds of winning the scholarship.
This $50,000 max scholarship, for one, requires SAT/ACT scores for the application. The National Merit Scholarship is another scholarship that depends on your SAT score specifically (not the ACT), as well as getting a qualifying PSAT score. (Read more about National Merit here.)
Many colleges and universities – especially larger state schools – often give scholarships based on merit. These scholarships reward the most accomplished students entering the school, and are used to help convince high-achieving students to attend.
These scholarships are often highly dependent on your GPA and SAT/ACT score. In fact, there are often different award amounts that increase along with your SAT/ACT score. See our list of automatic scholarships for SAT/ACT scores to find out more!
Some students may find themselves taking the SAT/ACT quite early on. Middle school talent searches (like Duke TIP or Johns Hopkins CTY) require the SAT/ACT as part of the process. These talent searches give gifted students access to special courses, college counseling, and more.
Your scores are judged differently for these since you’re taking the SAT/ACT at a younger age. (You can read about the SAT and ACT score requirements for Duke TIP if you're curious.) And in case you’re wondering, colleges don’t need to see scores from very early SAT/ACT dates when you’re applying. If you take the SAT/ACT in middle school, you should probably retake it in high school for a higher score.
Even once you’ve graduated college, your SAT/ACT score can follow you! Even though both tests were designed for college admissions, some other organizations have found uses for them.
In particular, sometimes SAT/ACT scores are used for job applications (particularly at prestigious companies like Bain, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs) to see if applicants have the “raw brainpower needed” to succeed.
Does this make sense? Maybe not. According to an article in Time, “SAT scores might not even be that good of a barometer for predicting someone’s job performance. In an interview last year, Google HR exec Laszlo Block told the New York Times, 'Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.' When the search engine giant crunched the numbers, it couldn’t establish a link.”
So why do companies sometimes include SAT/ACT score on their applications? According to a PBS Newshour Report, "'When you’re hiring people and they don’t have a lot of work experience, you have to start with some set of data points,' Eric Eden of Cvent, a Virginia-based software company, told The Wall Street Journal. Eden’s company hasn’t looked into whether their top employees also had the highest scores — but 'knowing it’s a standardized test is really enough for us,' he said.'
So even though it might not make the most sense, some companies will look at your high school SAT/ACT scores to get more context about you. Since the SAT and ACT are standardized, the tests allow the companies to easily compare different applicants.
Will your SAT/ACT scores stop you from pursuing your dream career? No. The majority of companies don't ask for your SAT/ACT score on your application. But some do, so your SAT/ACT scores could affect your job prospects, especially right out of college. This is just another reason to study hard in high school!
How the SAT/ACT Won’t Be Used
After reading all this, you may be thinking your ACT/SAT scores will follow you around for the rest of your life. But don't worry! There are some key opportunities, both pre- and post-college, that don't use your SAT/ACT score.
Graduate fellowships like the Rhodes, Marshall, and Fulbright scholarships don’t require SAT/ACT scores – for these, your undergraduate transcript is most important. So if you have your eye on getting one of these prestigious scholarships, don’t worry about your SAT/ACT score following you.
Graduate Schools don’t take the SAT/ACT either. In fact, each type of grad school has its own test. Prospective medical students have to take the MCAT, law students the LSAT, pharmacy students the PCAT, dental students the DAT, business students the GMAT or GRE, and many other programs require the GRE. (Talk about alphabet soup!) So even if you ace the ACT/SAT in high school, you’ll have to go through the test prep routine once more if you're aiming for graduate school.
Finally, some private scholarships (like the Coca Cola scholarship) don’t use SAT/ACT scores. In fact, there are many private scholarships based just on essay competitions or other writing prompts. Many more are also based on your personal circumstances, for example, scholarships for children of military members. You can search for scholarships on College Board's Big Future website if you want to find out more.
Your SAT/ACT score doesn’t just matter for college admissions – it can get you scholarships, higher class placements, and even a job post-college! This is all the more reason to study for these tests as hard as you can.
That said, don't stress about the SAT/ACT too much. For most students, once they get to college, the tests will stop being important. Even if a job application asks for your SAT/ACT score, they will also be looking at your achievements and work experience from college. So focus on doing the best at whatever it is you're working on now!
Should you retake the SAT/ACT? Find out here how likely it is your score will improve.
Get more in-depth advice for improving your SAT/ACT score, from the best ACT English practice, vocabulary you need for SAT reading, a guide to lines and angles on SAT math, and the 21 ACT tips you should be using.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
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.