What an ACT Score Means
You’ve taken the test and received your score; now what
happens? If you’re still in your junior year of high school, your
ACT score can help you determine which colleges to apply to. Numerous
publications each year publish reports on college profiles. Both
these reports and your high school guidance counselor should help
you determine your safety, 50/50, and reach schools, based on your
ACT score, high school GPA, and other factors such as recommendations
and extracurricular activities. While an applicant’s total package
is what counts, a good ACT score will never hurt your chances of
getting into the schools you want. If you scored better than you
expected, your score may help your applications at schools that you
previously considered reaches.
How Your ACT Score Fits into Your Application Package
You may be wondering why a standardized test score matters
in your college application. Let’s compare two students, Megan and
Chloe. Megan and Chloe are straight-A students at their respective
high schools. These grades reflect the girls’ relative
standings at their schools (unless everyone at these two schools
gets As), but how can college administrator Tim use these grades
to compare Megan and Chloe? It seems like we’re leading you to answer, “ACT
scores!” Well, that’s not entirely true. The truth is that Tim will
look at a number of things to differentiate between the two girls.
He’ll carefully consider extracurricular activities, the girls’
essays, and their recommendations. He’ll also look at course descriptions
to see whether Megan has long been acing Advanced Number Theory
and Sanskrit while Chloe has been queen of her Shop class.
So where does the ACT fit into this? Well, it’s
just another way of confirming relative standing among applicants.
Tim may have access to course descriptions, but that curious college
administrator is always on the lookout for other means of comparison.
The ACT provides that means: it is a national standard by which
colleges can evaluate applicants.
The ACT is merely one factor in your total application
package, but it is an important factor that should not be overlooked
or slighted. Although many schools hesitate to admit it, the fact
is that your ACT score is one of the first things that stands out
to someone reading your application. That person will eventually
get around to reading teacher recommendations and your personal
essay, but your ACT score is an easily digestible piece of information
that will allow an admissions staff to form an early impression
of your academic achievement. We’re telling you this not to scare
you, but to give you an honest assessment of what the ACT means
to your college application.
That said, you should think of the ACT not as an adversary
but as a tool that will help you get into college. For example,
if Chloe is really a class-A student, but her high school doesn’t
give her the opportunity to extend her talents beyond Shop class,
the ACT provides an opportunity for her to show Tim she isn’t a
flake. If you approach the ACT pragmatically and don’t hope for
a knockout score you can’t achieve, and if you study with some vigor,
you can control your ACT destiny and get the score you need in order
to get into the colleges of your choice.