The ACT Still Matters in a Test-optional World

     -- Push your seniors to take the October, December, and February ACTs

By John Baylor
On to College

More colleges have gone “test-optional,” accepting students without a test score. Peru, Wayne, and Chadron State have been test-optional for years. Creighton transitioned in 2019. In February, the three University of Nebraska campuses announced that students will be considered for admission without a test score if they are ranked in the top half of their graduating class or earn a 3.0 GPA. However, one fact is often misunderstood: test optional primarily applies only to those students excited to pay full price.

For the others who seek less than retail sticker price for college, increasing that ACT score remains the best paying job a high school student can have. Because ACT scores suggest college readiness, most public and private colleges offer merit-based scholarships based on test scores. The grid below shows how the tuition cost at Nebraska’s public universities and state colleges should decrease thanks to a higher score. As the ACT score increases, the tuition decreases significantly at all six (you can find all these results in your OnToCollege Nebraska State Scholarship Guide).

Here’s how a higher score lowers the tuition cost of some of Nebraska’s excellent private colleges.

Seniors, this year for the first time, are eligible for many of these merit scholarships without a test score, but the GPA will have to be much higher for students to win the money. In fact, the UNL Admissions Director told me in August that she estimated that without an ACT score, a student would need well above a 4.0 GPA to win a Regents. Jumping that score is insurance in case the student’s GPA proves not to be high enough to win. So seniors should still prepare hard and get their maximum ACT score in October, December, and February.

College-bound free-and-reduced lunch students should also prepare for the ACT because significant need-based eligibility does not guarantee significant need-based aid, a reality even before the pandemic tightened college budgets. Colleges have only finite funds for grants; applicants that demonstrate college-readiness through a score are likely to receive more of that aid. If two applicants with equal need and equal grades apply for aid, but one does not submit a score and one submits a ‘college-ready’ 25, which student should receive more aid? This competitive advantage is one reason about 90% of applicants to the University of Chicago, a test-optional selective college, choose to submit their test scores.

There is also the issue of class placement. UNL requires aspiring engineering majors to have at least a 24 on their ACT. And an ACT score of 22 or higher should waive most two- and four-year college applicants out of first-year remedial classes, the high school do-over classes that cost money, offer no college credit, and shrink the likelihood of college graduation.

Optional is a misleading word. Extracurricular activities are optional, but students should participate in them. Filling out the FAFSA is optional, but most families should submit one. Many colleges have gone test-optional, but students should maximize their scores because test scores matter for those seeking merit scholarships, a freshmen year with no remedial classes, or a competitive advantage for need-based aid or selective college admissions. Let’s get the message out.

 

www.OnToCollege.com    

 

 
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