ACT vs. SAT: Which one is right for your child?

ACT vs SATBy Carissa Handrinos

Deciding on a college is a daunting task for both parents and students. With so many things to focus on like grades, location, programs, personal statements, etc., the college application process becomes overwhelming. On top of all that, there are college admission tests, more commonly known as the ACT and the SAT.

Both parents and students fret about the tests and their respective scores, sometimes for no reason. Colleges nationwide accept both tests; even Ivy league schools like Harvard claim that they have no preference, equally accepting applications with either test.

Before students and parents start looking at test-prep programs and scheduling testing dates, they should find out which test(s) will best help them stand out on their application. Because these tests often double as placement tests and measures of student achievement, students want to pick the test(s) that best fit them individually and the school and programs they are applying to. A student who takes both the ACT and SAT and scores higher on one than the other may only submit scores from the higher of the two.

Generally speaking, the ACT is considered to be based on high school curriculum and the SAT more on general reasoning, vocabulary and problem solving skills. Thus, some students may do better on one over the other due to their own abilities.

Practice tests like the PLAN and PSAT may help indicate that. Also, students do not have to send their test scores to their prospective schools right away. They can take each test a few times, see which one(s) have the highest scores, and then decide which scores to send to which schools. Those who are applying to highly competitive schools may choose to send in scores from both the ACT and SAT to help their application stand out among the other applicants.

The SAT Subject test is recommended for students who want to demonstrate academic ability in a specific subject, clear up any discrepancies that may exist on their transcripts in certain subject areas, or need to take it for the specific college or program they are entering.

A student pursuing an engineering degree may take the SAT math subject test to show mathematical proficiency and clarify and inconsistencies that may exist in grades or other test scores. An international student may take the English or writing subject tests to show English proficiency and to avoid tests like the TOEFl.

Specific programs and majors sometimes recommend or require the SAT subject test to show a student’s strengths in a specific subject. The subject tests are another tool students can use to increase their application’s attractiveness among the hundreds and thousands of other applications that admissions officials will be viewing.

When it comes to deciding which test, the choice is really up to the student. Students should investigate the schools they are interested and see what tests students who were accepted took to increase their chances of also being accepted. They should look at their own strengths and weaknesses and choose the test(s) that best highlights their strengths. They should look at the program they are interested and see if a subject test may increase their chances of being accepted into that specific program.

For most students, the ACT is the only test they need to take. But for some, the SAT and its subject tests may be the better fit. Speaking with a college counselor or visiting the ACT and SAT websites may help students and parents make this tough decision as well.

For more information, visit:

Why Go to College?

Why Take the SAT?

Why Take the SAT Subject Tests

Learn more about The Student Connection here.


About The Student Connection

The Student Connection is a team of professionals committed to creating capable learners. Sharing a passion for helping others "learn how to learn," the team includes educators, school psychologists, clinical psychologists, and speech and occupational therapists.
This entry was posted in College Test Prep, Foreign Languages, Parents, Students, Studying and Testing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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