Nearly half of the Juniors have had their initial interviews and received their PSAT scores—It is a great way for us to get to know each other and begin the college planning process in earnest. Once that initial interview takes place, students and parents complete a Student Questionnaire and a Parent Questionnaire, which I distribute during the student interview ( I can also email them to you if you like) and we schedule a Family Conference. It’s actually a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to getting to know each of you. Students generally email or simply stop in to set up an appointment during a free period, lunch, or before or after school.
SAT or ACT?
After receiving PSAT scores, students often ask if they really need to take both the SAT and the ACT. The answer to this question is “it depends” (this is an answer that gets a lot of use in college counseling.) You may know that the State of Michigan used the ACT for the state assessment exam for several years and a couple of years ago switched to the SAT. Additionally, many students who are thinking about out-of-state colleges (especially Ivy League colleges) think they have to take the SAT Reasoning Test. That is not true. Furthermore, the decision to go with the SAT had nothing to do with the quality of the assessment, but because SAT came in with a lower bid.
The fact is that every college in the US that requires test scores will take either the SAT or the ACT.
So, which test should you take? Generally speaking, Roeper recommends you take the SAT and the ACT once and see how you do. Try each test and retake whichever one you are more comfortable taking—in April, May, June, September or October (You still will have time to retake the test in the fall of your senior year if you still want to raise your score). Either way, be sure to take one of these tests at least once before junior year is out; since Michigan and Michigan State both like to have applications turned in early in your senior year, you will be significantly behind in applying to either of these schools if you haven’t taken ACT or SAT by the end of your junior year.
Moreover, you want to have your scores sent directly from ACT or SAT (it’s “free” to send four of them when you register or up to four days to one week after you’ve taken the tests) BEFORE the application deadlines! Students have been known to put this off and then forget to send them. News flash: U of M won’t consider your application “early” even if you apply before November 1 unless your test scores are there by that date—not in transit!
What about the Writing Test?
Recent headlines have proclaimed that since the writing portion of the SAT is now optional (again) and the (always) optional writing portion of the ACT has been revamped that a significant group of colleges will either no longer require the writing test or may even completely disregard it. So what does that mean to you?
We STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU TAKE AT LEAST ONE WRITING TEST. This can be with either the SAT or ACT. Colleges are still making decisions about whether to require the writing portion now and there still are a significant number of colleges that WILL require the writing test. (U of M will!!) The “better to be safe than sorry” rule applies here—you’ll want to cover all of your bases (as with the SAT II tests described below). That also means, however, that you don’t need to take more than one writing test—AND YOU DEFINITELY DON’T WANT TO STRESS ABOUT IT.
What is an SAT Subject Test?
As you continue your college search, you may hear about tests called the SAT Subject tests. These tests also have another name—the SAT IIs. These one hour tests aren’t at all like the “SAT” that we’ve been talking about. While the regular SAT (also called the SAT I or SAT Reasoning Test) focuses on general reading comprehension, writing skills and mathematical reasoning, the SAT Subject Tests measure what you’ve learned in a particular subject—Math, Physics, Biology, French, and so on. Some colleges ask for these tests to see what you’ve learned in high school; Unless you are applying a specific program, (engineering, for example) for the most part you can choose any subject that you are confident about.
Many colleges will require you to take one, two, or three SAT Subject Tests in addition to taking the SAT Reasoning test. Some colleges will require them of everyone. What does this mean to you? First, you really have to find out if any college you’re applying to requires SAT Subject tests. The requirements change a great deal each year, so go to the college’s website, or the Common App website, and see if they require the SAT Subject tests. If they do require them, look and see if they require you to take any specific subject test (for example, many Engineering programs require Math 2 and either Chemistry or Physics). You also can check to see if the college will take ACT scores instead of SAT Subject tests.
If you have any doubt, go ahead and take the subject tests. You don’t need to send them unless 1) the college requires them—(it’s like insurance, in case you decide, even later on, that you want to apply to a college that does; or 2) Your scores are really strong, and they will help your application.
Although these can wait until Fall of Senior year if you’d like—most students like to take them at the end of their junior year (there is a June 2 test date) because they’ll be just completing the class where they learned the material and it should be fresh in your mind. You can sign up online for SAT Subject tests the same way you signed up for SATs. Either way, remember that you can take up to three SAT Subject tests during the same test date—each test is only an hour long.
The College Counseling Office has sample SAT Subject test as well as practice ACT and SAT tests!
Patricia Bostwick, MA, LPC
Director of College Counseling