Hi Juniors and Parents of same! Hope you’re all healthy and finding your way in these unprecedented times.

I received this email yesterday from a family:

“We are hearing that a lot of colleges are not requiring the SAT/ACT for juniors this year. I know things are in flux, but at this point, do you think _____ should continue with SAT prep or instead concentrate on all the other things that will help him get into college like his resume, volunteering, and all of the other things you recommended?”

Excellent question which I’d like to address in this Rant.

Right now there’s not a uniform, clear cut answer to it. It’s very true that a growing number of colleges are going SAT optional for the class graduating in the spring of 2021 – that’s you! This growing list is added to the over 1000 colleges who are already test optional.

However “test optional” does not necessarily mean that SAT and ACT scores will not be considered, and won’t play a role in next winter’s admissions and scholarship determinations.

Here’s my best advice given the unknowns facing us all:

  1. The SAT and ACT are cancelled for the spring. Right now the June SAT and ACT are still scheduled, though they may be cancelled as well. I suggest students prepare to take both tests in June, but keep their prep ‘mellow’ and relaxed. Use Kahn Academy.
  2. Whether or not the June test is cancelled, the SAT is scheduled to be given in August, October, November and December. The ACT is scheduled to be given in July, September, October and December.
  3. I advise students to take each test twice, as scores tend to increase with familiarity.
  4. There is indeed a growing number of schools which have gone “Test Optional”, and probably more will go that way in the future. It’s worth noting that this is a trend that’s been going on long before COVID-19 – there are over 1,000 schools that are test optional. You can see the list here: fairtest.org
  5. Nevertheless, most colleges will continue to use submitted scores (whether required or optional) for admissions and for scholarship purposes. To wit: if you can get your scores around 1100 or higher (depending on the college) it may be worth submitting them whether they’re required or not.

Look – if you’ve been following my newsletters with any regularity you know I’ve long maintained that these standardized tests are “bad tests” in that they do not measure how well a student will do in college. Your transcript is a far better predictor of that, and colleges which go test optional recognize that.

That said, for many students these tests can be a “necessary evil” in that they can help you get accepted to a college, and they can help you receive money from that college.

It’s hard to make a blanket statement on what a “good score” is on a particular test because it depends on the college, the students’ grade point average and rigor of schedule, and his/her activity profile. However for the vast majority of US Colleges and Universities (the 80% of them who accept over 50% of their applicants**) a test score of over 1100 on the SAT (24/25 on the ACT) can be considered competitive.

Every student should weigh whether the chance of scoring high on one of these tests outweighs their $60 price tag plus the hassle of prepping for them plus whatever anxiety and worry taking the test will incur.

If a student’s PSAT scores were close to or over 1,000, s/he has a chance to score well on the SAT or ACT. If that’s you, I say plan to take ‘em.

That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. Stay tuned for filing deadlines as well as updates on the status of those June tests. And give me a holler if you want to discuss this matter further.

** Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Education Department data. See link below.


So, as most of you shelter in place, maintain social distance, take classes from home and find yourself absolutely bored to tears, what can you be doing now to prepare/position yourself for the college application process?

Those of you who have met with me know the answer. Those who have not, here’s your “marching orders”:

  • make a resume
  • work on your first essay, then a second one (both “subjects of your choice”. Consult the Common Application for their seven prompts, but really you can come up with your own.)
  • research colleges, work on your “Top 10” lists
  • reach out to coaches and other college personnel by sending exploratory “pen pal letters” of introduction
  • even though we’re still on virtual lock down, take steps to line up summer employment, as well as some sort of creative internship or project which reflect an interest you have and which you will highlight when you apply.


For those of you who have not previously met with me, some of the above suggestions may sound unclear. I’m a phone call/video conference away (see contact information in my signature below) and like yourself, I’m pretty much in one place all day and eager to talk with you. Parents take note of this as well – there’s no charge for a schmooze on the phone.

Here are three good articles to read – the first will teach you a lot about financial aid. The second addresses the testing scenarios I referred to above. The third contains encouraging statistics about college selectivity.

NY Times: Financial Aid

Inside Higher Ed: Testing Scenarios

Pew Research: College Selectivity


Gary AKA The College Guy