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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

Using Test Scores for University Applications

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Should you send SAT or ACT test scores to the universities on your list? The answer - it depends.

I think we can all agree - international students around the world have faced challenges applying to universities in the USA for decades. They have faced hurdles of not understanding complex processes that are drastically different than their home countries, of not being able to find adequate resources, and of figuring out how to fund a post secondary education abroad where it is arguably the most expensive education system in the world.

I’ve used The Savvy International blog to address many of these concerns over the past year. Feel free to peruse past blogs on all sorts of topics...but for's all about the test scores.

Girl studying for test.
Take advantage of test optional universities!

This year, we are guiding students through the university application processes with even more challenges - the challenge of applying to universities during a global pandemic. For so many students, this adds another layer of challenge. BUT, I digress - I do think there are some advantages. I’ll probably dive deeper in another blog, but think about it - the world has never been more virtual and accessible for international applicants. Universities have upped their virtual tours with new and improved photos and videos. They have their representatives ultra trained on doing online “tours” and information sessions with students and families. And maybe best of all, tons of universities in the USA have gone test optional.

What does this mean for international applicants? For years, international applicants have struggled to find adequate test prep resources in their home countries, not to mention trying to familiarize themselves with the material for reading and math tests that is often very different than how they learned in their home countries.

Over 1,500 universities are now test optional, including some of the most impressive universities in America - including University of California schools, Ivy’s like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, as well as lots of large public research schools like The Ohio State University and Penn State University. This is amazing news for international students. Why?

Two of the biggest questions are usually:

What's a good SAT/ACT score?

Should I submit my test scores?

These are difficult questions to answer because it largely depends on multiple factors:

How strong are your other application materials like your school transcripts/grades, essay, letters of recommendation, or involvement and extracurriculars?
How competitive is the school you are applying to?
And then traditionally I would have said - is the university you’re applying to test optional because this can take a lot of weight off of the pressure of test scores.

This year, due to the pandemic, many institutions in the USA are offering students the option to apply test optional, meaning test scores are not a requirement as part of the admissions process. For international students, this can take a huge weight off the struggle of not only preparing for, but taking the SAT or ACT and trying to understand your scores and how to use them to your advantage.

If you do have the chance to take the SAT or ACT, understand that your scores could still help you apply to certain scholarship programs or bolster your chances of being admitted to your dream university. On the opposite side though, I often see students with strong grades from secondary school but lower SAT scores.

It’s not uncommon to have a student with a 3.8 GPA (95%) earn a 1090 combined reading and math score (read more about understanding your test scores here). For many universities, this student’s GPA would help them with admissions, while these SAT scores would be average or lower than average for a typical student applying to the university. It’s important to understand what the average student looks like at the universities you want to apply for admissions to.

This year, unlike any other year before, allows international students the unique opportunity to apply to top universities in the USA without worrying about the stress of high enough test scores.

Tips for standardized test scores
Research the incoming freshman profile for the universities on your list. Every university publishes the average incoming grade point average and test scores for their class the previous year.
Focus on building your application/resume in other ways - international students often don’t have the same access to clubs, sports, or organizations on campus - look for ways you can get involved in organizations outside of your school that can help distinguish your university applications.
Study for English proficiency tests rather than standardized tests.
Take advantage of the test optional schools and aim high - you may be able to use this test optional year to your advantage for highly ranked universities that typically admit students with high standardized test scores

Remember, test scores can always help or hurt applications depending on how they fit into the rest of your materials. Knowing the universities on your list, understanding your scores, and taking advantage of test optional policies are all huge ways to help get into your top choice schools this year.

Good luck! Until next time!

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