12/22/2011 04:40 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2012

Unigo Expert Network: How important are standardized test scores?

SAT. ACT. Six letters that every high school student dreads. But in the ever-changing landscape of college admissions, are standardized test scores still important? The short answer: yes. This week, our experts weigh in on just how important those scores are in comparison to the rest of your application.

"How important are standardized test scores compared to other pieces of the application?"

Shelley Levine"Test Scores Do Not Define Your Success - In Life or In College" Standardized test scores are not an accurate predictor of achievement in life, nor do they demonstrate a student's ability to have a successful college experience. In fact, when reviewing applications, academic rigor and performance in college prep classes are the most important aspects of the college admissions process. Standardized test scores, because they allow for easy comparison between students, when considered, rank third in order of importance during the review process. If testing is not your strength, worry not; there are more than 800 "test-optional" colleges. Your academic achievements and contributions to the community will help you stand out.

-- Shelley Levine -- Certified Educational Planner - College Bound

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Diana Hanson"Important, But By No Means the Only Gauge & Test Optional is Growing..." How critical test scores are depends on the college, and there is a movement toward holistic review, which means that the college looks at the entire student record, including not only grades and test scores, but also activities, work and life experience, and more. Most colleges will tell you that your high school record--taking challenging classes and making good grades in them--is the most important predictor. Being a well-rounded student who is active in the community and at school is also key. If standardized testing is not your thing, check out the growing number of test optional colleges at Remember also that there are many, many colleges from which to choose, colleges that can be a great fit for you, regardless of test scores.

-- Diana Hanson - Independent College Consultant - College Mentors

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Eric Furda"Test Scores Are Still Important" Unless an institution is test optional, standardized test scores are going to be an important consideration in the evaluation of a candidate's credentials. Test scores are usually less important than an evaluation of the curricular rigor and achievement that a student is experiencing in the classroom. The more informed testing conversations are not simply 'how important are test scores', but at 'what level or range' should finer distinctions be made on a candidate? Students should be realistic about middle-50% test ranges for admission, but even within those ranges admissions officers will want to determine the best context for how prepared a student is to be successful on our campus. Other non-quantitative pieces assist in that evaluation, including letters of recommendation, student writing in the essays and also interviews.

-- Eric Furda - Dean of Admissions - University of Pennsylvania

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Kiersten Murphy"Curriculum Choices are Highly Valued" Applicants are typically reviewed holistically. However, admissions officers put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the curriculum choices and on the grades earned in those classes. Standardized tests are important, but the effort that has been put into academic performance is much more valued. Students can always review what individual colleges value by looking at the Common Data Set located on their website.

-- Kiersten Murphy - Director - Murphy College Consultants

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Suzanne Petrusch"Standardized Test Scores: One Component of Your Full Application Portfolio" Standardized test scores are just one component in your full portfolio of application materials. In my experience, I have found that overall academic performance throughout three years of high school is more indicative of a student's ability to succeed in college. The relative importance given to test scores in comparison to other factors will depend on the type of institution and the rubric used in the application review process. You may find that test scores are weighted more heavily in consideration for scholarship than for admission. Keep in mind that some institutions no longer require scores for all applicants.

-- Suzanne Petrusch - Vice President for Enrollment Management - St. Mary's University

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Roby Blust"Test Scores are Important - But Not Most Important" The most important piece of the application for us is the academic record. The academic record encompasses courses, strength of courses, grades, and the overall trend in grades. This record is matched with a student's academic area of interest - to see if there is a good fit. Test scores help to add some more depth to our understanding of the academic record. The answer to this question, however, is different for every school - one size does not fit all. Check with each school you are considering to get their answer to this question. This is critically important.

-- Roby Blust - Dean of Admissions & Enrollment Planning - Marquette University

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Head over to to see 30 more explanations on the importance of standardized test scores for prospective students