Feb. 7, 2021
Can you explain self-reporting test scores to me? I am putting all my SAT and AP scores into Common App but now I am not sure if I also need to send official scores for both or either of those tests to the colleges. When I went to College Board's website to see what the process was to send AP scores, it didn't seem to allow me to send just the good ones — it seemed like I had to send them all. Do I need to send official scores for these tests?
Up until several years ago, all colleges that required the SAT (or ACT) also required students to send official scores from the testing agency — even though it often cost extra money to do so. Sometimes, when the official scores didn't show up, the college folks would look the other way and work with scores submitted by a guidance counselor or on a high school transcript. But eventually, the scores from the testing agency were necessary before an admission verdict could be finalized.
Now, however, a growing number of admission officers have decided that students can initially "self-report" their SAT or ACT scores on applications. Then — only if the student is admitted and decides to matriculate — would it become necessary to follow-up with official scores from the agency. (And if the student had applied via a test-optional policy, then official scores would be rarely required at all, although some colleges do ask for them once the decision is set in stone, if the student will enroll). This quasi honor-system approach saves many families time and money.
The change is mostly good news but it's also where some of the "confusing" part comes in. It can be hard to keep track of which colleges require official agency score reports from all applicants right away and which only demand them once the applicant has been accepted and plans to attend. So it's up to you to determine which of your colleges will accept a self-report until post-decision and which ones need your official scores from the get-go. If it's too much of a treasure hunt to find this info on websites (and it sometimes is), a phone call to the admission office should do the trick.
In addition, here is a current list of colleges that claim their applicants can self-report SAT and ACT scores. The list is compiled by Compass Education group — an outfit that I've repeatedly found to be helpful and reliable. The Compass roster even includes links to admission web pages, so if you spot any of your target colleges here, you can just click on the name and get the inside scoop straight from the horse's mouth!
AP exam results, on the other hand, typically don't ever need to be sent to colleges from the College Board until the summer after you've finished high school, which will also be after you've made your final choice. Then these official scores should go only to the one college where you've decided to enroll. Although there are ways to cancel low scores, there's no reason to do so because you're already IN! Colleges have relied for years on self-reported AP exam scores, and you need not send your official ones until you know where you'll be heading next fall.
Exception: Some colleges are "test-flexible," meaning that they will accept AP scores in lieu of SAT or ACT scores. This year, in particular, many colleges that are newly test-optional have encouraged applicants who haven't been able to take the SAT or ACT to submit any scores that they do have, such as from APs or Subject Tests. Thus, if you're applying to one of these colleges, you may be expected to send official AP scores now, if you wish them to be considered when your decision is made. In these cases, if there are low scores that you don't want to include, you should follow that cancellation link above. In most cases, you don't need to send official AP results until after you've matriculated. However, if you're applying anywhere without SAT or ACT scores and expect your AP scores to be used in place of them, check with the admission office to see if they need the College Board score report pronto.
So, as "The Dean" said earlier, this process is not a straight line, but it's definitely worth a bit of your time to determine which schools don't need official score reports right now, which could actually end up saving you a lot more time ... as well as money!
Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.