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For many students, one of the most significant stressors in the college admissions process is preparing for and taking the ACT and/or SAT.  Across the country, parents pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for test prep classes and private tutors, and students spend hours upon hours studying for these exams that seem to hold the key to their future.  But just how important are the ACT and SAT in comparison to other factors in the college admissions process?

According to a recent report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 46% of over 200 colleges surveyed said that ACT/SAT scores have “considerable importance” in their admissions decisions.  In contrast, courses and grades were important to far more colleges: almost 75% said grades in all courses were of considerable importance, 73% said grades in college prep courses were of considerable importance, and 62% said strength of curriculum is of considerable importance.

Furthermore, the importance of test scores in college admissions has declined in recent years.  In 2011, NACAC reported that 59% of colleges said scores were of considerable importance; in 2017, 54% said so.

This decline may be due, at least in part, to the fact that more and more colleges have become test-optional, meaning students don’t have to submit ACT or SAT scores in order to be considered for admission and (in some cases) merit scholarships.  According to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (a.k.a. FairTest), “More than 1,050 four-year colleges and universities do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor-degree applicants.”  In September, FairTest announced that 47 colleges had become test-optional over the previous year — more than in any other year.

In another interesting twist, earlier this month, a California school district and civil rights groups threatened to sue the University of California system if it does not remove the ACT and SAT from its application requirements.  The groups contended that the use of these tests violates California laws against racial discrimination and pointed to research that has found the tests are biased against low-income and minority students.  (Both ACT and the College Board, which creates and administers the SAT, deny these claims.)  Additionally, the civil rights groups argued that low-income students have less access to test prep, which further disadvantages them in comparison to their more affluent peers.

Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see if colleges continue to place less weight on ACT/SAT scores.  Until such time that scores are no longer required for admission to any four-year college (which seems unlikely to ever happen), students will continue to stress about their performance on these tests.