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Standardized tests are the bane of many a student’s existence. They are stressful and time-consuming, and students are made to feel that doing poorly on a standardized test is of earth-shattering consequences. While it is true that at some schools, standardized tests are important, less-than-stellar standardized test scores do not mean the end of the world, and they certainly do not mean that a student cannot get into college and lead a successful life after that. Read on for ways that students with less-than-excellent test scores can strengthen their college applications.

Many factors go into admissions decisions

First, students should realize that standardized tests, while considered in the applications of many schools, are only one part of what a school will consider about applicants. Grades, academic rigor, extracurriculars, community service, essays and recommendations all play important roles in the admissions process. School priorities also play a role in determining who colleges offer admission (these factors have nothing to do with students. These items not only help demonstrate a student’s ability to think (and how s/he thinks) and learn, but also give a better sense of who students are as well as what they are passionate about.

Consider test-optional colleges

Many schools are now either making tests optional, eliminating the requirement completely, or allowing students to choose which tests they want to submit with their applications (within the range of which tests they accept). Test-optional schools will not hold the lack of test scores against students, nor will they assume that students are not submitting test scores because they have done poorly. Indeed, increasingly, not only students but also colleges are questioning the utility of standardized tests and changing their requirements accordingly. It is also worth noting that excellent college schools are choosing to eschew standardized test scores. For more on test-optional colleges, see this blog: http://galined.com/archives/poor_test_scores

Write a good personal statement.

A good personal statement does not mean that something earth-shattering must have happened to the student or that students need to have discovered the cure for cancer and brought about peace in the Middle East. Rather, a good essay conveys who a student is to the admissions officer reading it. It is thoughtful and considered. It demonstrates that a student can think and communicate clearly in written form. For more, see: http://galined.com/archives/college-essays-start-now

Make a compelling case.

Most college applications have some variant of the “why this college essay“ prompt. Make the most of this opportunity. Students should be certain to explain clearly why they are a good match for the school. That means including specific details about unique programs and opportunities available at the school, specific classes and or professors that they are interested in taking or working with, how the school can help the student achieve his or her goals. Essays alone will not get students admitted, but they can get admissions officers to appreciate why a student would want to go there (and perhaps agree with the student’s assertion that the school meshes well with his or her interests). For more, see: http://galined.com/archives/college-essay-tips-for-students-writing-the-why-essay

Writing strong essays are not only important for the reasons listed above, but also because they are directly in the hands of the students. Students can put in the time and effort to write sound essays, and (provided they start early) the essays can be revised and polished until they are just right.

Demonstrate interest.

Colleges want students to want them. Show interest in the school by going on campus visits (and letting the admissions office know that you are there), doing on-campus or alumni interviews, etc. For more on demonstrated interest, see this blog: http://galined.com/archives/demonstrating-interest-why-and-how

Apply to a range of schools, and be realistic in building a list of colleges to apply to.

As we have often said on this blog, college admissions are all about fit. Both the college and the student want to make sure that they are right for each other. By doing their homework and applying to some schools where they are over the average admitted student statistics, some where they are about the same and some reach schools, students can take some of the stress out of the application process. Focusing on fit early and researching schools thoroughly can help maximize chances for admission. While there are certainly no guarantees in college admissions, it is important for students to apply to colleges that really suit their needs and abilities as opposed to chasing schools that are highly-ranked or world-famous. For more on building a list of colleges, see this blog: http://galined.com/archives/2-steps-for-making-your-best-college-list

Bottom line

Students who have less-than-great standardized test scores are not condemned to rejection from college, and lower test scores don’t mean that students will not be successful college students. Increasingly, colleges are beginning to view standardized testing differently, with a variety of test-optional policies. By focusing on fit and other strengths, every student can find admission to college and go on to enjoy an excellent college experience. In the end, wherever they go, students will get out of their college experience what they put into it.

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