How To Make Your Application Stand Out With No SAT or ACT Score

Over the summer, more than 400 colleges have made the SAT and ACT an optional part of the application process in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many schools have stated that this measure is temporary, but as the pandemic continues on, it could become a permanent change. While many students are still planning to take the test, others are wondering how they can make sure their application stands out without an SAT or ACT score. 

How important is the SAT / ACT on an application?
There is no exact answer to this question. Many top colleges use a ‘holistic admissions’ process, which is a strategy designed to take all parts of the application into consideration and reduce reliance on standardized testing. This process can help students who were not able to attend high-ranking high schools or didn’t have the opportunity to receive SAT or ACT help. 

Conversely, a strong SAT or ACT score can make the difference in an application. Admissions officers can only spend a few minutes considering each applicant. That’s certainly not enough time to understand each student individually, so there will always be some reliance on standardized testing.

So how can students stand out without an SAT or ACT score? Fortunately, there are several opportunities within the application for you to show the admissions officer what makes you special.

1. GPA
You saw this one coming! A strong GPA is always an excellent foundation for a college application. According to a 2018 NACAC report, 80% of colleges surveyed listed high school grades as ‘considerably important’ in the admissions process.

For many students, the transition to online or partially-online learning has been a struggle. Take a look at our recent post 5 Tips for Effective Online Learning for some advice on how to ensure you’re getting the most out of your online lessons.

If you’re already a senior, make sure to avoid “senioritis” after submitting your college applications.

2. Advanced Placement
Since not all schools offer a wide variety of AP classes, admissions officers are looking for whether or not the applicant took advantage of many or all of the AP courses available to them. For example, if your school offers five AP options but you decided to take the regular versions of those courses instead, this could reflect negatively on your application. If your school only offers two AP classes and you take both, this would reflect positively on your application.

3. Essays
Your application essays are incredibly important! In many cases, it is the only opportunity for an admissions officer to hear directly from you. Your essays should communicate your personality and passion.

To learn more about writing compelling personal essays, attend one of our free webinars.

4. Interview
Not all colleges have alumni interviews, but for the ones who do, this is an excellent opportunity to make a great impression. Make sure to practice with parents or friends and learn proper interview etiquette. Have your parents ask you tough interview questions and practice your answers.

5. Extra-curriculars
Choose your extra-curricular activities carefully. Admissions officers have been known to prefer a list of activities that show a focus on one area of interest. Students who focus on one area such as debate, sports, or music are more appealing candidates than students who participate in several unrelated activities.

6. Volunteer
Volunteer experience is an excellent way to demonstrate your dedication to helping your community. For many students, this is a simple task because their school required them to volunteer as a requirement to graduate. If you have volunteer experience, be sure to include it in your application!

If you have any questions about test prep or admissions, reach out to us at to book a free initial consultation with one of our education consultants!

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