Taking the SAT can be a source of stress for many students, with many test-takers sitting for the exam half a dozen times during their admissions journeys. Add to that the fact that some students seem to easily log perfect scores, and it can be a natural reaction for those who score below 1600 to wonder what they're doing wrong.
The reality, however, is that the average SAT score among 2018 high school graduates was 1068, and many students with scores in that range get accepted to their first-choice schools and are thriving in college and beyond.
College Confidential sat down with a student who logged a 980 SAT in 2016 before graduating in 2017. She chose not to share her name for reasons that many readers might understand. "I didn't even tell my closest friends that I didn't break 1000," she said. "When you're in high school, it really feels like everyone is getting scores over 1200, and anything below that seems embarrassing." She is sharing her story today to encourage other students whose scores don't pass 1000.
Question: How many times did you take the ACT and SAT, and how did you prepare?
Answer: I took the ACT once early in my junior year and got a 16, which was devastating. So I took a test prep course locally and they asked me to do a mock SAT to see what my target score would be like, and it came out to a 950. So they decided I was likely to score higher on the SAT and I did three months of test prep with them on it. At the time, I was taking two AP classes, I was on the field hockey team, I had a job and a few other things going on. So I will admit I didn't practice as much as I probably should have -- I did about an hour or two of test prep practice a week for the three months, and then I tried to keep doing it afterward, but there really never seemed to be time.
I took the SAT three times, and I don't remember my individual scores or the specific test dates, but the highest I got was a 980, and that was a superscore. This was the year that the SAT transitioned from the old version to the new version, so I actually took both, and I really didn't see drastically different scores on the old test versus the new one. My scores were always within a few points of the same range. It was really frustrating. I thought about taking it again or trying the ACT but I was kind of exhausted and I felt like maybe that was the score I was destined to end up with, so I decided to focus on my high school classes and just work with the 980.
Q: Did the fact that you got a 980 prompt you to change your college list at all?
A: No. Maybe it should have! But in my case, I had my heart set on a few schools that my counselor thought I could still get into with the 980 but she showed me the other areas where I'd have to improve to offset that SAT score. So I got into some leadership activities -- I started a book club at my school and was the leader of that. I was captain of the field hockey team, I got into Governor's School -- I had some impressive extracurriculars that she thought would help me. I also worked really hard in my classes and ended up with a 3.4 unweighted GPA and four AP classes.
Q: Which colleges were on your list?
A: I applied to Miami University (Ohio), Elon, DePaul, Virginia Tech, University of South Carolina and Kent State. I got in everywhere except for Elon and South Carolina. I am from Ohio and was hoping to leave the state for college, but out of the four schools I got into, the one where I really felt the most at home when I visited was Miami, and that's where I go now. As an in-state student, it was the second-best value because I was offered a scholarship at Kent State, but I decided to attend Miami and I love it here.
Q: Is there anything you would do differently if you could do it over again?
A: Well, I definitely could have studied more for the SAT...! But honestly, even if I had gotten a few extra points, I probably would have ended up at Miami. It's the perfect school for me and I don't really have any regrets. At this point, no one knows what my SAT was and with the testing behind me, I am not really regretting anything. It was stressful at the time, but now it doesn't bother me.
Q: What advice do you have for students who are in the college application cycle now and aren't hitting the test scores they wanted?
A: You will end up where you're meant to be, whether or not you break 1000 on the SAT. I know friends who got much higher SATs than I did who are at the same college with me, and I know people with crazy high SATs who still weren't happy with their scores. No one is going to care about your SAT score in a few years. It feels stressful when you're applying, but as long as you like all the schools on your list (the safeties, the targets and the dream schools), you will end up at a school where you're happy.
For more from students with average scores, check out our interview with a student who logged a 21 ACT to see his admissions journey.
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