Two components are most critical in the search for academic merit scholarships – grade point average and entrance exam scores. The entrance exams, namely the ACT and the SAT, are standardized exams given approximately six times per year. These exams are usually given at high schools across the country and there is a fee each time you take these exams. The ACT is generally the exam of choice for southern schools, and the SAT for schools throughout the rest of the country. Most schools specify one or the other but generally will take results from the other exam.
As of this writing, the SAT costs $49 per sitting and the ACT has two options – with writing ($49.50) and without ($34). On the ACT, most schools now require that you take the writing section at least once. Each time you take either exam you can have your results mailed to four different schools for free, and you can have score reports sent to more schools for an additional fee. On the ACT, the maximum section and composite score is 36, and the composite is an average of the four section scores. On the SAT, there are three sections in which you can score from 200-800 points in each, and the composite score is a sum of the three section scores.
So a lot rides on your performance on the entrance exam; in fact, there are a few schools who will award scholarships based solely on your entrance exam scores. Each school will recognize the highest score on a single exam. And, a limited number of schools will do a “super-score” which means that, once you’ve taken the exam multiple times, they will take the top score from each section to create their own composite score.
In order to maximize your performance on either exam, I’m recommending the following three-exam plan:
Choose which exam you will take
Use practice tests to prepare for the first exam during the summer before your junior year
Take it the first time during the fall of your junior year
Add an exam prep study guide to prepare for the second exam during the winter of your junior year
Take the second exam during the spring of your junior year
Use an individualized coaching service to prepare for the third exam during the summer before your senior year
Take the third exam during the fall of your senior year
This might sound a little costly, but for less than the cost of one college course plus fees plus books, you could improve your score enough to earn some additional scholarship dollars. If you’ve done the work to get a good grade point average, don’t let the exam hurdle dash your scholarship hopes. Make the time and money investment to do the best you can on these exams.