Educators address the ultimate multiple-choice question: SAT or ACT?

Which test should you take?

By Kelly Kennedy
Test Confusion Widespread
   Volumes of misinformation about which schools take only the SAT or the ACT are floating
through the halls of academia.
   "I have a list that's three single-spaced typed pages long of schools that only take the ACT,"
said ACT Inc.'s Director of Media Relations, Ken Gullette. "They may not all be accurate."
   They're not. And a quick spin on the web informs students that they must take the ACT to
enter Brigham Young University, Eastern Kentucky University and Pacific Union University.
Not so.
   On the SAT end, the rumor is that Bryn Mawr does not accept the ACT. That's news to
the admissions folks at Bryn Mawr.
   And Peter W. Cookson, president of Columbia University's Teacher's College, the Doris
Dillon Center, and author of a book on SAT preparation, A Parent's Guide to Standardized
Tests: A Practical Guide to Your Child's Success is pretty sure Columbia College, New York
doesn't take the ACT.
   "If Columbia suddenly started taking the ACT, how would they compare their classes?" he
   It's possible they figured that out when they began accepting ACT scores.
   None of these people are purposely misguiding students. They are all knowledgeable about
the admissions process. But, there are thousands of higher-learning institutes in the United
States, and they're hard to keep up with.
   That means students must find out for themselves early on what tests they need to complete
to make it into the school of their choice -- or if they need to take a test at all.
   Finding out is fairly easy: Visit the school's Web site or call their admissions office. Make
sure they don't expect their policies to change within the next two years.
   "Almost all colleges will take them interchangeably," said Gulette. "But especially on the
East and West coasts, which are SAT states, students don't understand they can take either
   He said there are a few continuing colleges that do only take the ACT, generally so they can
place their students in the proper classes, and there are a few four-year universities, such as
Southeast Louisiana University, that also take only the ACT.
   "Traditionally, the ACT is more of a curriculum-based test," said Gulette. "A college can get
ACT scores and see exactly where a student stands academically. They can tell what level
science classes a student should take -- there's no science on the SAT 1."
   Deren Finks, Dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvey Mudd College Claremont,
Calif. serves on the College Board's national committee on the SAT. At Harvey Mudd, a
student seeking admission is required to submit an SAT score.
   "I would guess there are two to five schools that only take the SAT," said Finks. "But you
want to know if you're applying to one. The SAT is more of a reasoning test. Harvey Mudd,
being a math/science college, revolves around the thinking process as opposed to having a
background of absorbing facts."
    The confusion comes because the United States is divided up into SAT and ACT tests.
Midwest states -- except Indiana -- take the ACT. East and West Coast students take the
SAT. Of the 2.3 million students who sat down to a standardized test last year, 1.3 million
faced the SAT exam.
   "Indiana is an SAT state, but Illinois is an ACT state," says Madeleine Eagon, vice president
of admissions at DePauw University in Indiana. "In Illinois, every student is required to take
the ACT. We usually advise students to take both tests because they usually do better on one."
   At Illinois State University, admissions officer Janis Nehrt said she receives many more
ACT scores than SAT scores but they'll accept both.
   Marybeth Kravets, president of the National Association for College Admissions
Counseling, said most colleges do now accept scores from either the SAT or ACT. There are
less than a dozen colleges that only accept results from one or the other. "Even Yale takes the
SAT 1 or 2 and the ACT," she says. "I tell kids to take them both."
   At Deerfield High, the public school just outside Chicago where Kravets serves as college
counselor, 92 percent of the students are college-bound.
    "Our ACT average is higher -- we're in the top 1 percent nationally," Kravets said. "On the
SAT, we're in the top 85 percent. But kids who are more verbally oriented might like the SAT
   If figuring out which test you must take to get into school seems difficult, don't let the words
"ACT preferred" confuse you further.
   "If the college accepts both but prefers the SAT, it means nothing to the student," said the
ACT's Gullette. "For example, the University of Iowa and the University of Kentucky are very
pro-ACT and academic achievement, but they accept both tests."
   At California Polytechnic State University, the board of directors is considering moving to
an ACT-preferred stance.
   "We feel it's a better indicator of a student's academic background," said James Maraviglia,
executive director of admissions. "It means nothing to the student. It's basically just sending a
message that that's the test we'd like for them to submit."
   Now, 93 percent of Cal-Poly's applicants submit the SAT. Would students have less of a
chance if they submitted an ACT score to Cal Poly? Maraviglia says no.
   "Will it affect them?" Maraviglia says. "Absolutely not. It's more of a message. It's so we
can attempt to get a critical mass of students so we can do studies based on the ACT. We
simply don't have that now."
   At Deerfield High Kravets said she advises her students to ignore the "preferred" test status.
   "If a college says it prefers one test over the other, I tell the student to take them both, but
send the higher score," she says.
   She also offers another irresistible tidbit: "Take the SAT IIs in the spring of your junior year.
If you do well, release those before the SATs come out. That way, you can decide whether to
send your SAT I score or your ACT score your senior year based on how well you do."
   It's all about playing along, she says, and students should play to win. "It's a little bit of
gamesmanship, but some kids are really worried," she says. "Probably there's nothing to worry
about. The highly selective schools will mix and match your best scores. They're looking to
include, not exclude."
   All the school administrators interviewed said the tests are only part of the process -- GPA
and courses taken in high school are usually more important in the admissions process.