Sep 18, 2013

The ACT Solution to Subject Test Requirements

Pomona College
For most students, SAT Subject Tests are thankfully not part of the application rat race. It’s only a handful of highly "selective" schools that either require or very strongly suggest the submission of two or more Subject Test scores to be considered for admission.

But to be clear, there are a number of reasons why colleges might like to see Subject Tests. Sometimes they want particular Subject Tests from students interested in specific majors or programs of study.  Or they might be required of students hoping to enroll in accelerated or specific honors programs.  Homeschooled students are often requested to send Subject Tests to confirm what they’ve learned.

And students wanting to underscore competence in a particular subject might want to submit scores regardless of whatever the college requires.

It’s definitely something to consider as you develop standardized test-taking strategies in high school, and you might want to schedule specific tests as they coincide with Advanced Placement or other advanced coursework as you move through high school.

Yet regardless of good intentions, it’s sometimes hard to squeeze in all the testing in time to meet deadlines, especially if you’re planning to apply Early Decision or Early Action.

If you’re feeling a little panicked about Subject Tests either because you never got around to taking them or because your scores weren’t quite as high as you had hoped they would be, there is good news:  a number of colleges will allow you to substitute the ACT with Writing for SAT Subject Tests.

Not only does this represent an economical solution to the problem—you only need to pay for one test instead of several—but because the ACT is given in September, you have a chance to prepare over the summer and take a test that is guaranteed to yield results in time for early applications. 

In other words, you avoid rushing scores from October or worrying about whether or not the College Board will transmit scores in time to meet deadlines.

But for those of you thinking about the ACT solution to the Subject Test dilemma, be aware that what a college requires may be different from that they expect from their best applicants. There is not consensus within the college admissions community as to whether the offer to substitute tests should be taken at face value. What is clear is that the majority of students admitted to these schools submit Subject Tests. So you should think of opting out of Subject Tests only if you feel your scores would do a disservice to your candidacy.

And keep in mind that many colleges will accept scores late into the process, and you can consider taking Subject Tests in late fall or early January of senior year as a back-up or to submit in case your application is deferred from early admission or you are eventually placed on a wait list.

For the record, the following is a list of schools accepting the ACT with Writing in lieu of both SAT and Subject Tests (special thanks to Cigus Vanni who provided the list):
  • Amherst College, MA
  • Barnard College, NY
  • Boston College, MA
  • Brown University, RI
  • Bryn Mawr College, PA (note other testing options)
  • Columbia University, NY
  • Duke University, NC
  • Haverford College, PA
  • McGill University, Canada
  • Pomona College, CA
  • Rice University, TX
  • Swarthmore College, PA (note other testing options)
  • Tufts University, MA
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Vassar College, NY
  • Wellesley College, MA
  • Wesleyan College, CT
  • Yale University, CT
Part One of a two-part series on Subject Test requirements.

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