college application on laptopContrary to popular belief, competitive ACT scores matter. Many elite colleges extol the virtues of their new, inclusive test-optional optional policies.[1] After all, every Ivy League college is test-optional now. And yet, each Ivy League college suspiciously gives instructions on how to submit test scores on their respective websites.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] There’s so much confusion surrounding whether students should apply test-optional. So, to set the record straight, in today’s discussion, we’ll look at the benefits and disadvantages of submitting (and not submitting) your ACT score.

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A growing amount of evidence suggests that the common denominator of those who score high on the ACT is wealth,[11][12] not intelligence. The media has covered this copiously.[13][14] My team of educators at Odyssey College Prep does not celebrate this systemic issue, nor are we suggesting that the advantages given to wealthier students on the ACT don’t exist. However, as college advisors, we have a professional and ethical obligation to inform students and parents of the advantages a high ACT prep score will give students in the admissions process.

Benefits of Submitting Your ACT Scores

As a college admissions consultant, and depending on the college which students apply, I and most of my colleagues[15][16][17][18] advise our students to prepare for the ACT or SAT. We’d be doing a disservice by not doing so. For most students, taking the test can only benefit them. Below, we’ll give you a summary of said benefits. And towards the end of the post, we’ll explore the rare scenarios when it might be advisable to apply test optional.

Competitive ACT Scores Differentiate Your Application

college application on ipadTaking the ACT can be a game changer for students yearning to set themselves apart in a crowded pool of applicants. A strong ACT score can underline students’ academic prowess and unwavering commitment to their education, presenting them as alluring candidates to admissions committees. It shows an admissions team they can maintain their grades while working to achieve academic excellence in other arenas.

The ACT is a beast of a test covering four subjects of academic fields. On paper, scoring well on these subjects, at least superficially, shows a student’s intellectual versatility. On a deeper level, though, it offers something else. The ACT is complicated for most. So, if a student scores well, they’re unlike most students. They’re different, perhaps a cut above the crop, maybe even the cream of the crop. And even if they’re not, competitive ACT scores go a long way toward convincing colleges that they might be.

High ACT Scores Often Demonstrate Academic Rigor

The ACT assesses more than just knowledge; to a degree, it assesses grit. Allow me to elaborate. Sometimes, a parent will ask me what my tutoring staff and I do to make ACT tutoring fun. Here’s how that conversation goes:

PARENT: Do your ACT tutors ensure the tutoring sessions are fun?

ME: In a tutoring session, we can control how engaged your student is, but not how much fun they have.
PARENT: What do you mean?

ME: At the end of the day, it’s the ACT. It’s dry, tedious, and, in all respects, the opposite of a pizza party.

PARENT: ***Laughs nervously

ME: What we can do for your student is make it far less tedious. We’ll also make sure your student sees the progress they make to keep them motivated. But this test isn’t fun.

That’s usually straightforward and encouraging enough to reassure most parents. But this scenario illustrates something… the ACT sucks. It’s an obstacle of immense academic tedium. But… if a student can do well on it, it communicates that a student can handle said tedium, particularly if it’s intellectually challenging, and for a good reason.

ACT Prep must often occur outside a student’s school schedule. Much of their leisure will be spent chasing a higher test score. A recent poll[19] showed that Gen Z students are most likely to spend their free time doing the ten activities listed below.

  1. Listening to music (56%)
  2. Watching YouTube videos (54%)
  3. Video gaming (45%)
  4. Using social media (42%)
  5. Watching movies (40%)
  6. Watching videos on social media platforms (36%)
  7. Relaxing/doing little as possible (35%)
  8. Watching TV shows (29%)
  9. Online shopping (27%)
  10. Getting fresh air / going for a walk outside (27%)

If you’re a parent reading, you can likely identify which activity your child engages in the most quickly. If they’re trying to get a full-ride scholarship or get into a top school, they will be doing far less of those leisurely activities and loads more test prep and homework. And if they do, they inadvertently show an admissions team something.

High ACT scores communicate to colleges that students eschewed leisure for academics. They forsook pleasure for other priorities that make them more attractive to a college’s admissions team. And yes, some students naturally perform well on standardized tests without much prep. But for the lion’s share of high school students, performing well on the ACT remains a chore and laborious grind. Preparing mentally for the test is similar to physical training for a marathon. So, a high ACT score, for most students, tells a story of complex, thankless work. And for many colleges, in terms of students gaining acceptance and scholarships, a competitive ACT score goes a long way.[20][21][22][23] After all, admissions teams have communicated these expectations. Take MIT, for example.

MIT Now Requiring ACT and SAT Scores

MIT requires first-year students to submit test scores. As with many schools in the US, MIT went test-optional during the pandemic. However, MIT returned to requiring ACT scores for their 2022-2023 applicants. During an interview, MIT’s Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill spoke on why:

Our research has shown that, in most cases, we cannot reliably predict students will do well at MIT unless we consider standardized test results alongside grades, coursework, and other factors. These findings are statistically robust and stable over time, and hold when you control for socioeconomic factors and look across demographic groups. And the math component of the testing turns out to be most important.

Stuart also wrote this:

We don’t value scores for their own sake, but only to the extent that they help us make better decisions for our students, which they do. [24]

However, MIT isn’t the only competitive school that values test scores. Below is a table that outlines the average ACT scores submitted by the average accepted applicant to these schools. The schools are ordered based on the US News Rankings.[25]

Average ACT Scores for Top Colleges

You can see in the table below there exists an almost perfect correlation between ACT scores and acceptance rate. Reams of data confirm a notable link between high ACT scores and acceptance rates at esteemed universities. For the mathematically inclined, the correlation coefficient stands at 0.77, a robust indication that the probability of being accepted into an institution of higher learning tends to increase as ACT scores rise. This statistic sends a crucial message to parents: fostering academic preparation and high ACT scores in their children impacts a student’s college application.

This correlation merits deeper consideration and explanation. Firstly, let’s acknowledge that high ACT scores are often perceived as a testament to a student’s academic prowess. This shouldn’t be surprising, as universities aspire to welcome students who are well-equipped to handle the rigors of academia, and impressive ACT scores serve as an effective gauge. Secondly, as we’ve touched on already, it’s worth highlighting that strong ACT scores can also suggest a student’s drive and work ethic. A high score can signal that a student has been willing to dedicate time and effort to study and perform well on the ACT.

Top 20 US Universities Ranked by Average ACT Score, Acceptance Rate, and Undergraduate Enrollment
Rank School Average ACT Score Acceptance Rate Location Undergraduate Enrollment
1 Princeton University 34.5 5.4% Princeton, New Jersey 4,718
2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 35.5 7.4% Cambridge, Massachusetts 4,613
3 Harvard University 35.6 4.7% Cambridge, Massachusetts 6,750
4 Stanford University 34.6 4.3% Stanford, California 7,086
5 Yale University 35.0 6.9% New Haven, Connecticut 5,388
6 University of Chicago 35.3 6.7% Chicago, Illinois 5,347
7 Columbia University 35.1 6.2% New York City, New York 6,183
8 University of Pennsylvania 35.4 9.5% Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 25,375
9 Duke University 35.2 5.5% Durham, North Carolina 16,343
10 Johns Hopkins University 35.2 12.8% Baltimore, Maryland 6,193
11 California Institute of Technology 36.0 5.2% Pasadena, California 2,240
12 Northwestern University 35.2 10.6% Evanston, Illinois 8,140
13 University of California, Berkeley 34.0 16.1% Berkeley, California 31,650
14 Cornell University 34.8 14.1% Ithaca, New York 14,741
15 Dartmouth College 34.5 9.6% Hanover, New Hampshire 4,390
16 Brown University 34.8 7.3% Providence, Rhode Island 6,242
17 Vanderbilt University 34.9 10.2% Nashville, Tennessee 14,573
18 University of Michigan 34.5 26.3% Ann Arbor, Michigan 47,403
19 Washington University in St. Louis 35.2 15.6% St. Louis, Missouri 14,695
20 Emory University 34.9 27.1% Atlanta, Georgia 7,149

High ACT Scores Unlock Scholarships

We’ve covered much about how competitive and elite colleges value test scores. However, they’re not the only institutions that reward students with high ACT scores. Take my home state, for example, Arkansas. The University of Arkansas holds a host of scholarships that require ACT scores. As you can see below, nine of the sixteen scholarships at the U of A require test scores.[26][27]

University of Arkansas Fellowships that Require ACT Scores 
Name Annual Award Eligibility Criteria Renewal Criteria
Honors College Fellowship $18,000/year 32 ACT, 3.80+ GPA Cumulative 3.00 GPA, 27 hours earned by end of 2nd semester annually, 30 hours earned each following academic year. Renewable for 4-8 semesters. Extra funding may be available for longer programs.
Bodenhamer Fellowship $18,000/year 32 ACT, 3.80+ GPA Cumulative 3.00 GPA, 27 hours earned by end of 2nd semester annually, 30 hours earned each following academic year. Renewable for 4-8 semesters. Extra funding may be available for longer programs.
Sturgis Fellowship $18,000/year 32 ACT, 3.80+ GPA Cumulative 3.00 GPA, 27 hours earned by end of 2nd semester annually, 30 hours earned each following academic year. Renewable for 4-8 semesters. Extra funding may be available for longer programs.
Boyer Fellowship $18,500/year 32 ACT, 3.80+ GPA Cumulative 3.50 GPA, good standing in honors program, 30 hours earned by end of 2nd semester annually. Renewable for 4-8 semesters.

The fellowships above are the most competitive scholarships at the University of Arkansas. Below you’ll find the less competitive scholarships that require test scores. But it’s worth noting that even if the scholarships not mentioned here don’t require ACT scores, a student will still benefit from submitting competitive test scores.

University of Arkansas Scholarships that Require ACT Scores
Name Annual Award Eligibility Criteria Renewal Criteria
Chancellor’s Merit Scholarship Up to $10,000, plus the amount of a Corporate or a UofA National Merit Scholarship, per year Merit or National Achievement finalists. Exceptional academic performance. Competitively awarded. Cumulative 3.00 GPA and 30 hours earned by end of each award year. Up to 4-5 years.
Chancellor’s Scholarship Up to $8,000 per year Applications are competitive. Typically from the top 5% of the applicant pool. National Merit Semifinalists and National Achievement Semifinalists are also considered. Competitively awarded. Same as for Chancellor’s Merit Scholarship
Honors College Academy Scholarship $4,000 per year Top applicants from the applicant pool with a minimum 27 ACT and 3.50 GPA. Competitively awarded. Same as for Chancellor’s Merit Scholarship
New Arkansan Non-Resident Tuition Scholarship Award Partial out-of-state tuition differential. Variable amount. Students from TX, MS, LA, KS, MO, OK or TN. Entering freshmen must have at least a 3.20 GPA and score 24 on the ACT; Transfer students must have 24 credit hours and at least a 3.00 GPA. Renewable with completion of 24 hours per academic year and 2.75 minimum GPA. Up to 4 years (5 years for Architecture students).
The University of Arkansas Leadership Award $2,000 per year Students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and leadership potential. Competitively awarded. Same as for Chancellor’s Merit Scholarship

My local state college isn’t the only college that gives scholarships based on test scores.[28][29][30] Many scholarships ask for ACT or SAT scores as part of their eligibility requirements.[31] Most state and private colleges require test scores for their scholarships, even if the university is a Test Optional College. Sitting for the ACT could open numerous financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

A Safety Net for a Lower GPA

A strong ACT score bolsters a student’s application when their GPA is less than ideal. This is because such a score, recognized universally, proves the student’s ability to take on demanding coursework. Research lends credence to this assertion. A study[32] conducted by Westrick et al. showed that students who scored well on standardized tests typically perform well in college in their first year. They discovered a negligible difference in graduation rates and cumulative GPAs between students who did and did not submit their ACT/SAT scores. The study also shows that while high standardized test scores can predict first-year college success, they don’t considerably influence the four-year GPA or graduation rates.

Only reliably predicting success for the first year of college may not seem like much. However, many students drop out before completing their first year of college. A study[33] reported by the Education Data[34] Initiative reported the following:

Overall College Dropout Rates:

  • 9% of undergraduates do not complete their degree program.
  • First-time undergraduate freshmen have a 12-month dropout rate of 24.1%.
  • Among first-time bachelor’s degree seekers, 25.7% ultimately drop out.

First-year Dropout Rates:

  • Most students who leave college do so within their first academic year.
  • Between the fall semesters of 2019 and 2020, 24.1% of all first-time, full-time freshmen dropped out.
  • For-profit schools exhibit a higher dropout rate of 34.2% among all first-time freshmen.

These statistics make it clear how pivotal the first year of college is for students. Many students drop out during this critical period, which underscores the importance of adequate preparation and solid academic foundations to face the challenges of college life. This further highlights the value of high ACT scores as they can effectively predict a student’s potential to succeed in their first year of college. Through such scores, students can demonstrate their readiness and resilience for rigorous college-level coursework, which can aid in reducing dropout rates during the first year.

As we’ve written before, colleges and universities are businesses (see our How to get into the Ivy League and Test-Optional articles ). No matter how we feel about that, we must admit its reality. As a business, colleges don’t want their students (their customers) to leave. So, if studies have shown that high ACT scores lead to higher retention rates for incoming freshman students, a high ACT score makes the student’s application more attractive.

Should I Submit My Test Scores?

Whether or not you submit your ACT scores hinges more on your circumstances. When I say personal circumstances, I mean your household income. However, what colleges consider wealthy likely differs from how you and I perceive a family’s wealth. Remember, test-optional existed to help families who can’t afford test prep. So, the lower your family income is, the more likely a college will look favorably on you applying without submitting your ACT scores.

Low-Income Families

For students hailing from lower-income families, the policy can, indeed, serve as a blessing. If high-quality SAT or ACT prep isn’t within your financial reach, you might think twice about sending those scores in. However, good test scores still enhance your application. Plus, you can use a heap of free online resources or less expensive courses and books[35] to get your scores up to snuff.

Middle-Income Families

Now, let’s chat about our middle-income students. If you’ve grown up with resources at your fingertips – think private music lessons or sports coaching – then you should be taking the ACT or SAT. This may not seem fair, but it’s the truth. If you have the luxury of taking a family vacation, you should probably sit for the ACT. The expectation here is that you’re equipped to perform well on these tests, thanks to your background. By not sitting for these exams, you risk implying a lack of effort. If the services or luxuries mentioned were things you couldn’t afford, you might be in the clear to apply test-optional.

High-Income Families

Lastly, we come to high-income families. If you’re coming from a wealthier family, it’s presumed you can afford test prep. Colleges might raise an eyebrow (and not in a cute way) if they see an application without test scores from a student of affluence. Not submitting test scores could be more of a setback than a step forward.

Two Examples Of Test-Optional Friendly Colleges

examplesThe information I’ve summarized in this post is general. In other words, it can be broadly configured to the application process of most colleges. However, there exist a few outliers. While most universities have similar admissions policies, each institution customizes its admissions process based on the demographic it serves and the goals of the college’s brand. As such, some colleges use test-optional policies in a way that usually helps students.

Colorado College’s Test-Optional Policy

Colorado College stands out among the more competitive test-optional colleges. First off, it adopted the policy before the pandemic. Most colleges moved to a test-optional admissions policy in reaction to other colleges trending that way in response to the pandemic. Yet, this small, private, liberal arts college did this intentionally before the social pressures of the test-optional movement took higher education by storm.

According to their website, 52% of the class of 2026 didn’t submit test scores.[36] In case you didn’t know, that’s a massive number for a college as competitive as Colorado College. With an acceptance rate between 14%,[37] the college seems authentic in its commitment to lowering the impact that standardized test scores have on its incoming students.

The Colorado College admissions team appears transparent about when it wants students to submit test scores. They illustrate this by providing the most comprehensive guide to their test-optional policy on the Colorado College website (see below).[38]

Colorado College Test Optional Policy As Seen on Their Website

We believe in empowering students to share information with us that best represents their academic abilities and potential. In general, we advise that if your score is at or above the middle of our 25th to 75th percentile score range, submit; if your score is below the middle of that range, consider opting out of submitting standardized testing. In this past admission cycle, the middle 50% range for the SAT was 1320-1470 and ACT middle 50% was 30-34 for all newly enrolling first-year students.[39]

As a college admissions consultant, I can’t communicate enough how refreshing this is. Most elite colleges use their website’s test-optional page to pat themselves on the back with how diverse and inclusive their admissions policies are. However, Colorado College’s website helps first-year students navigate their test-optional policies. It spells out when to submit test scores, not just telling students what the college wants, but giving them a solid strategy that enables students to use the policy for their benefit.

Hendrix College

Hendrix College resides in Conway, Arkansas. Many of my former students have attended there. While Hendrix doesn’t boast the comprehensive test-optional guidance that Colorado College’s website does,[40] it nonetheless delivers on its commitment to its holistic admissions process. I spoke at length in 2022 to one of their admission officers. The Hendrix Admission Team Member[41] I talked with someone who told me that TEST OPTIONAL is optional.

If you’re above a 4.0, you shouldn’t submit test scores unless you score 32 or above on the ACT. For us, test-optional means test-optional, not test-preferred.

Hendrix College is a great school. While it doesn’t boast the rankings that Colorado College does, it’s still impressive that the institution’s marketing of its test-optional admissions policies appears legitimate.

Again, the two examples above exist as exceptions, not the rule. Usually, submitting test scores will benefit students significantly if a high GPA bolsters them.

How to Raise Your ACT Score

Raising an ACT score boils down to two methodologies: studying independently or with a tutor. We’ll discuss the benefits and limitations of these methods in subsequent posts. However, suffice it to say that if a family can afford personalized tutoring, that’s the route I’d advise them to go down. This is because, as you’ll see, independent study primarily benefits highly disciplined and self-aware students.

Benefits of an ACT Tutor

woman tutoring studentAn ACT tutor provides several benefits to students. The first is obvious. One-on-one tutoring lends the expertise of an experienced tutor to a student. In my experience, the quality of a tutor has less to do with what college they graduated from and more with how long they’ve been tutoring and their methodology. Another benefit of tutoring, and arguably the most important, is accountability. More than anything, a great ACT tutor holds students accountable. They assign them homework, analyze what they answered incorrectly, and inform parents if they’ve carried out their assignments.

Lastly, effective ACT tutors use refined tutoring techniques and methodologies. For example, when a parent hires my staff and me to work with their students, we don’t just show up and work on whatever the parent or student asks. We have a system.

A student’s tutoring journey may change depending on the student. However, it usually goes something like this.

  1. Cognitive Assessment: Students take a cognitive assessment to determine whether they should take the ACT or the SAT. Additionally, the data gleaned from the assessment allows us to predict how likely a student will improve and how they learn best.
  2. Practice Test: We administer an official practice test to hone in on which questions the student struggles with the most.
  3. Begin Tutoring: The student is paired with their tutor/tutors.
  4. Interim Practice Test: Student take another practice test to gauge their progress.
  5. Reevaluation: Students’ curriculum is tweaked according to their practice test results.
  6. Practice Test: Student takes a final practice test to gauge their progress.
  7. Test Day Debrief: Student gets briefed on everything they need to be aware of on test day.
  8. Take the Test: Student sits for the ACT or SAT.

Again, parts of this may change depending on the student. But the principle is the same. The student is guided on the tutoring journey through a tried and tested process. However, private tutoring costs money, and it often isn’t cheap. Therefore, independent studying or self-paced ACT prep might be a better option for some families.

Benefits of Independent ACT Prep

Students can technically study for the ACT independently. However, only the most disciplined students can pull this off. If a student isn’t motivated to get this done, it will likely not work. Additionally, even if students are encouraged and study every day, they might spin their wheels using ineffective learning strategies without enough self-awareness of how they learn best.

Yet, if a student studies independently, consider these recommendations.

Start by taking an ACT practice test

Don’t take the official ACT first. Take a practice test. This allows you to see which exact questions you missed, and you’ll have access to the correct answer to learn from your mistakes. Free practice test PDFs exist online.[42] This approach lets you identify specific missed questions and better understand your mistakes. After all, there’s no better teacher than error. You can access correct answers and compare them with your responses. Doing this gives you a deeper understanding of the test structure and content. It’s tedious… but it’s effective.

Focus on Your Mistakes

Once you’ve taken a practice test, it’s essential to take some time to review your results thoroughly. Don’t simply glance over your score and move on. Instead, take a closer look at the questions you missed. Try to identify any patterns or areas where you constantly struggle. This step can help you pinpoint areas that require additional focus in your study plan. Remember, understanding your weaknesses is the first step in turning them into strengths.

It’s time to hit the books after identifying your areas to improve. Use the insights gained from the practice test to guide your study sessions. Consider seeking additional resources or tutoring if you find a particular area consistently challenging. It’s all about targeted improvement: the more you focus your study time on the areas with the most difficulty, the more efficient your study sessions will be.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of consistent practice. This isn’t revelatory, and you already know this, but hear me out anyway: As with any skill, the more you practice, the better you get. Stick to a study schedule that’s doable and realistic. With test prep, your studying quality will correlate to the quantity of your studying. Case in point, there’s no quality in studying that never happens.

Aim to take several practice tests throughout your study process. This will help you track your progress and familiarize you with the exam’s timing and format. When you sit for the official ACT, you’ll feel well-prepared and confident, knowing you’ve made the most of your preparation time.

Here’s a summary of how to prepare for the ACT by yourself.

  • Start by taking a practice test.
  • Thoroughly review your practice test results, paying particular attention to your missed questions.
  • Identify patterns or consistent areas of difficulty in your practice test results to guide your study plan.
  • Use insights from your practice test to focus your study sessions on areas needing improvement.
  • Practice consistently by taking several practice tests throughout your study process to track your progress and familiarize yourself with the exam’s timing and format.

Purchase a Self-Paced ACT Course

If you can afford a self-paced test prep course, I recommend Achievable’s ACT course. With that said, allow me to divulge a bit of bias: my team and I wrote the course, every word of it. However, there are several reasons I would recommend it over other courses.

Achievable’s ACT Course contains an innovative feature that doesn’t exist anywhere else. One of the most striking features of this course is its unique approach to math practice. Instead of providing a static set of questions, Achievable’s algorithm generates an unlimited supply of unique math problems from a vast pool of over 250 different ACT-aligned question templates. This encourages a deeper understanding of underlying principles rather than memorization. Each problem comes with a thorough step-by-step explanation, covering the mathematical concepts, techniques, and reasoning involved.

That leaves the remaining ACT sections—English, Reading, and Science. The English section covers the gamut of usage, mechanics, and rhetorical skills. They have hundreds of practice questions for the English test as well. The reading and science sections are closely tailored to resemble the actual ACT, particularly interpreting different passage types and extracting data from the passage. The emphasis is on teaching students how to interpret and deduce information rather than recalling scientific facts, which is especially beneficial for ACT’s Science section.

Despite its in-depth content, the Achievable ACT Course is user-friendly. One of my students said, “Each chapter flows into the next one.” It works well on multiple platforms, from desktop computers to mobile devices. It has a well-structured, reader-friendly online textbook that encapsulates seasoned professionals’ advice, strategies, and guidelines. The course provides content, tracks the learner’s progress, and adapts to their specific needs, using advanced algorithms to optimize study time and effectiveness. This adaptability has a proven record of successful outcomes, which Achievable proudly supports with their money-back guarantee if your score does not improve. This innovative approach, backed by compelling results, makes Achievable’s ACT Course a standout choice for ACT preparation.

Paying for the course allows access for a whole year. Many test prep courses, like Kaplan’s course, only give you access for six months. Additionally, Incorporating an additional feature, Achievable’s ACT course provides scoring and question categorization data from over ten official ACT exams. This aspect has a clear purpose. It enables students to measure their performance and ACT exam readiness accurately. Essentially, students can extend their practice beyond the actual tests Achievable offers. They can evaluate their skills and comprehension using the question categorization data derived from actual ACT exams. This dual approach facilitates a deeper understanding of the exam’s structure and gives a reliable measure of their potential performance on the real test. It reflects Achievable’s dedication to creating a thorough and useful exam preparation resource.

My only real criticism of the course is that it doesn’t yet have many video tutorials. However, in my experience, many students rarely use video tutorials and instead prefer to practice by themselves. The course doesn’t have as much Science content as the English and Math course. But even without the updates coming, it has more than enough to make it a superior ACT course.


As you can see, deciding whether to submit test scores isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. Take a hard look at your circumstances before opting for a test-optional application. Additionally, remember when you decide to keep your scores to yourself, colleges will turn up the magnifying glass on the rest of your application. Your GPA and extracurriculars will matter far more and will be turned over with severe scrutiny. Thus, choose wisely!


What’s the benefit of submitting ACT scores to a test-optional college?

Submitting a strong ACT score to a test-optional college can differentiate your application from others. They illustrate students’ academic prowess and dedication to education, making them more appealing to admissions committees. Further, high scores can demonstrate academic versatility, as the ACT covers four subjects. These scores can convey a student’s resilience and dedication. Finally, high scores may unlock various scholarship opportunities, even at test-optional colleges.

How do high ACT scores reflect on a student’s work ethic?

High ACT scores suggest students can balance their regular school schedule with rigorous test preparation. In addition, they imply that a student has chosen to invest substantial time and effort into academic pursuits over leisure activities. This level of dedication and discipline indicates a strong work ethic and commitment to achieving academic excellence.

How can ACT scores influence scholarship eligibility?

Many scholarships, including those offered by state and private colleges, require ACT or SAT scores as part of their eligibility criteria. High ACT scores can help students secure such financial aid and scholarships. Some institutions, like the University of Arkansas, offer a range of scholarships based on ACT scores. Therefore, a strong performance on the ACT could open up many financial aid opportunities for students.

Why do High ACT scores matter, even when a student’s GPA isn’t as strong?

A full ACT score can compensate for a lower GPA in a student’s college application. A strong ACT score, recognized universally, demonstrates the student’s ability to handle demanding coursework. It can reliably predict success in the first year of college, a critical period given the high dropout rates among first-year students.

Are ACT scores still relevant at top-ranked test-optional universities?

Yes, ACT scores remain relevant at top-ranked institutions. Despite adopting test-optional policies during the pandemic, MIT reverted to requiring ACT scores for their applicants. The institute asserts that standardized test results, grades, and other factors provide a reliable prediction of a student’s potential to succeed at MIT. Admissions teams like having them because it gives them more ways to sort through their applications.[43]

What’s the difference between Test-Optional and Test Blind Colleges?

Test-blind and test-optional policies often confuse students and parents but differ significantly. For example, test-blind colleges eliminate the factor of ACT or SAT scores in their admissions process.[44] Simply put, they won’t consider your standardized test scores, even if you want to submit them. Instead, these colleges emphasize factors like GPA, class rank, essays, and other aspects of your application that illuminate your academic potential and personal qualities.

On the other hand, while test-optional colleges don’t require you to submit test scores, they don’t entirely disregard them. Contrary to what many believe, in the test-optional model, ACT and SAT scores still carry weight. If you submit high scores, as we’ve already addressed, they can bolster your application and give you a competitive edge. Therefore, ‘test-optional’ often implies ‘test-preferred.’ It’s a nuanced but crucial difference to understand as you map out your college admissions strategy.

[1] What Test-Optional Colleges Aren’t Telling You, Gray, Marcus – accessed at What Test-Optional Colleges Aren’t Telling You on 27 May 2023.

[2] Testing Requirements for 2023-2024, Brown University – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[3] Columbia University announces permanent test-optional policy, Sheridan, Hope – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[4] Test-Optional Policy Extended for 2022-2023 and 2023-2024, Columbia University – accessed at Accessed 27 May 2023.

[5] Standardized Testing Policies | Undergraduate Admissions, Cornell University – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[6] Standardized Testing, Dartmouth College – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[7] Standardized Testing, Princeton Admission – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[8] Testing, University of Pennsylvania – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[9] Standardized Testing Requirements & Policies, Yale College Undergraduate Admissions – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[10] Admissions Update for the 2023-2026 Application Cycles, Harvard College – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[11] Students need a boost in wealth more than a boost in SAT scores, Perry, Andre – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[12] Why Do Rich Kids Have Higher Standardized Test Scores?, Bergland, Christopher – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[13] Rich students get better SAT scores—here’s why, Hess, Abigail J, accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[14] SAT Scores and Family Income – The New York Times, Rampell, Catherine – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[15] Does “Test Optional” Mean Optional for Me?, Larriva, Matthew R – accessed at

[16] Colleges’ grand promise of ‘test-optional’ admissions is self-serving | Opinion, accessed at Accessed 27 May 2023

[17] The Half Truth Behind Test Optional Policies at Harvard, Cornell and others, Incontrera, Marie – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[18] What Does Test Optional Really Mean?, Sarikas, Christine – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[19] YPulse. The Top 10 Things Gen Z & Millennials Are Doing in Their Free Time, Ypulse – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[20] Why Standardized Test Scores Still Matter Despite the Test Optional Movement, AdmissionSight – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[21] Scholarships By ACT Score, accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[22] Full Ride Scholarships: What They Are And How They Work, Accredited Schools Online – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[23] True Merit: Ensuring Our Brightest Students Have Access to Our Best Colleges and Universities, Kack Kent Cooke Foundation – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[24] We are reinstating our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles, Schmill, Stu – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[25] 2022-2023 Best National Universities | US News Rankings, Franklin, Benjamin – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[26] Scholarships for New Students, University of Arkansas – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[27] Fellowships | Honors College | University of Arkansas</cite, >University of Arkansas Honors College – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[28] Office of Financial Aid, Ole Miss – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[29] First-Year Freshman Scholarships, Oklahoma City University – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[30] Financial Aid | Student Life | College of Environment + Design, UGA – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[31] ACT Scholarships, UNIGO – accessed at on 27 May 2023.

[32] College Performance and Retention: A Meta-Analysis of the Predictive Validities of ACT® Scores, High School Grades, and SES, Westrick, Paul A., et al. – accessed at Educational Assessment, vol. 20, no. 1, 2015, pp. 23-45, DOI: 10.1080/10627197.2015.997614.

[33] College Dropout Rates, Hanson, Melanie – accessed at on 30 May 2023.

[34] Education Data Initiative: College Costs & Student Loan Research, Education Data Initiative – accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[35] Odyssey College Prep, accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[36] Class Profile – Colorado College, accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[37] Colorado College Admissions – US News Best Colleges, US NEWS – accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[38] Test-Optional Policy, Colorado College, accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[39] Ibid

[40] ACT and SAT Statement, Hendrix College – accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[41] One Role, One Goal, Hendrix College – accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[42] Practice exams, Achievable – accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[43] PROOF POINTS: Colleges that ditched test scores for admissions find it’s harder to be fair in choosing students, researcher says, Barshay, Jill – accessed at on 31 May 2023.

[44] What are Test-Blind Colleges?, Gray, Marcus – accessed at What Are Test Blind Colleges? on 2 June 2023.


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