Oct 8, 2014

Early applicants—will your fall test scores arrive on time?

James Madison University requires test scores by deadlines

An important component of deciding on an early application strategy is knowing where you are with regard to the testing requirements specified by individual colleges and universities. 
Although over 840 institutions are listed as test-optional or test-flexible on the FairTest website, the vast majority of postsecondary institutions still require some kind of standardized testing as part of the application process.

But this is where things begin to get complicated, as colleges vary enormously in terms of “who wants what by when.”  

A great resource for sorting out the who wants what” part of the early equation is a series of detailed charts provided on the Compass Education Group website.

These charts use SAT Subject Tests (the old SAT II’s) as a focus for presenting testing requirements and divide colleges into those requiring, recommending, or considering Subject Tests.

But the tricky part, for purposes of determining whether or not you are a good candidate for early admission, is knowing by when” scores must be provided.

Ideally, you should plan to send scores at least a month ahead of stated deadlines—early action, early decision, and/or regular decision.

Even if you haven’t completed the application, just send the scores.  They’ll go into a holding pattern until some part of the application is received, at which time they’ll be attached to your file.

Unfortunately, this plan works best for students who completed all testing—ACT, SAT, or SAT Subject—by the end of junior year.

But if you’re among the vast majority of early applicants scheduled to retake tests in the fall of senior year, a small timing issue comes into play.

And this causes stress about meeting deadlines.

Because the ACT has a September test date, you can generally be assured those scores will reach colleges with early admissions plans on time—even if you wait to check them out before sending.

And most applicants want to see their scores before transmitting them to colleges.

The SAT, however, is a little less certain, and your strategy for applying early is dependent on policies/deadlines established by individual colleges.

If you agree to have SAT scores sent sight unseen, colleges will receive them at about the same time you do. And this is fine, provided there isn't some kind of "hold" placed on your scores.

If you want to see the scores before sending, you can arrange to have them sent to colleges immediately after you’ve reviewed them or agree to pay an upcharge and have them “rushed” to their destination—hopefully by deadline.

But here is where you run into problems.  

Colleges all have different rules about how hard and fast their deadlines are. 

Some, like James Madison University and the University of Michigan, insist that all application materials be received on or before deadlines.  And some of these will NOT accept rushed scores sent through the mail.

Others provide specific test dates on their websites you can count on using to meet deadlines.  And still others suggest that as long as scores are received before the application is read, they will consider them. 

So what is the early applicant to do? 

First, try to make sure at least one set of test scores gets to your colleges before the early deadline. 

Next, go ahead and take fall tests if you think you can improve your chances of admission or scholarship opportunities with higher scores.   

But if the scores most likely won’t make the first round of early action or early decision deadlines, consider applying EA II or ED II. 

And keep in mind the fall scores will almost certainly be available for regular decision consideration should you be deferred.

Above all, read all application instructions very carefully. They can be fairly nuanced, as colleges like to keep their options open.

If you still have questions, call or send an email.  Most admissions offices would rather have you ask than miss a deadline.

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