Options available to offset low SAT scores

Question: I just got back my SAT scores, and they are worse than I expected. I don’t think I am a good tester. Now I am worried that I cannot get into a good college. Any ideas for me?

Answer: I hear your concerns all day long as students bemoan their scores. I recognize how frustrating it is to work so hard in school to achieve great grades, only to feel that those efforts might all be in vain because of a four-hour exam. In truth, the scores often do not reflect intelligence or what you have learned in your high school classes. For many students, the test simply reflects one’s test-taking abilities. Since these tests can be improved through tutoring, they do, in fact, favor the affluent student who can afford SAT/ACT coaches. These tests also require students to read and reason out solutions to math problems quickly, which can be a disadvantage to those who can only get the right answer if they have the time to work in a methodical, thoughtful fashion.

Studies have also shown that there is not a consistent correlation between the GPA in college and one’s SAT scores. Many people, including the College Board itself, feel that grades in school are a better predictor of college success than SAT scores. For this reason, many schools have joined the ranks of not requiring mandatory reporting of the SAT or ACT scores. Some of the well-known schools that subscribe to this practice include Smith, Mt. Holyoke and Hampshire in Western Massachusetts, as well as Bowdoin and Bates in Maine. Wake Forest recently joined the list with the expectation that others will follow suit. For a full list of schools not requiring standardized scores, you can go to On this site, you can read some of the latest studies, which support the arguments against standardized testing.

Some schools such as Lewis and Clark in Portland utilize a portfolio review instead of scores. They require that you send in three pieces of writing which represent a writing sample and a research paper, as well as written work on either a quantitative or science topic. Lastly, they require a third paper of your choice along with three teacher recommendations.

Since these all have to be actual high school papers that were graded, you should save the papers which you are most proud of, beginning in your junior year. Other schools such as Franklin and Marshall in Philadelphia actually want to see teacher comments if you choose to send in papers instead of scores.

Too often, my students think that saving papers means saving them in your hard drive. In fact, you want to save the marked-up hard copies that you actually submitted. Some schools like Pitzer in California will waive the requirement for standardized test scores if you have a GPA above 3.5.

In our own region, Washington State instituted an automatic admit policy for students who have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. The University of Oregon does this same thing if you have a GPA over 3.25. Central Washington University still uses the Academic Index, which uses a formula to average out your GPA and test scores — fortunately, this formula can be derived quickly on its Web site. Within seconds of plugging in your numbers, you are able to see if you have an Index score of 28 or higher, which automatically allows you to be admitted.

I recommend that you consider taking the ACT if you are not happy with your SAT scores. Some students who I have worked with have scored considerably higher on this test, as it is more likely to correlate with the material that you have covered in school.

At some point, usually by the third time you have taken a test, if not sooner, you may need to accept that your scores probably will not change as much as you might hope. For some students, this can be a difficult realization when you recognize that your probability for admission to the school of your dreams may be lower than you had hoped. For others, this realization allows you to regroup and decide if there are perhaps less selective schools that will offer similar academic and social opportunities, where the chances for admission improve. In fact, attending a less selective school might be more advantageous in the long run if you can be at the top of your graduating class. This could open doors for both graduate/professional schools or job opportunities.

Joan Franklin is the owner of The College Source, an independent college consulting practice: She is also a certified school counselor in the Issaquah School District. She can be reached at (206) 232-5626 or

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