College and Career Planning / Grades and Testing / Ages 14-18

What Parents Need to Know About College Entrance Exams

Planning ahead will give your teen plenty of options when it comes to what happens after high school.

So you have a teen who’s thinking about college. Exciting, right? It might be nerve-wracking, too. The applications can be overwhelming (and well, then there’s the cost). But not to worry! We’re here to help.

College application guidelines and requirements have been in flux since the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know before your teen starts the process:

  • Many colleges still require the SAT and/or ACT as part of their application process. The basics of college entrance exams are the same as they have been for a while: Some colleges require the SAT, others require the ACT, and some accept either test. Both of these are general entrance exams that test your high schooler’s knowledge in literacy, math, and (in the case of the ACT) scientific reasoning, too.
  • Some colleges have gone “test optional.” Some schools opted to waive test requirements during the pandemic, and quite a few have decided not to switch back to mandatory entrance exams. (Here’s a list of colleges that are now “test optional” or “test flexible.”) 
  • But we recommend proceeding with caution. Even though some colleges call test scores “optional” for general admission, they may still require them for merit-based aid, admission to honors programs, and other opportunities. So it’s really important that you and your high schooler take a look at the fine print in their college applications: You don’t want to miss out on valuable opportunities because they don’t have test scores to submit. We still recommend that high school juniors plan to take the SAT and/or ACT in their senior year (twice, if they can!), even if colleges call them optional. That way, your child will have all their bases covered no matter what. (Both tests offer fee waivers for students who need them. Here’s how to apply for the SAT and ACT fee waivers.)
  • SAT subject tests are out, as is the SAT written essay. The College Board has eliminated SAT subject tests—the hour-long tests on specific topics like U.S. history or chemistry—as well as the SAT’s written essay.
  • But the PSAT and PLAN are still in. Even if it’s not clear whether or not your child will need to take the SAT for college applications, they should still take the PSAT if at all possible: It offers great practice and will give your high schooler (and you) a sense of how they’re doing. On top of that, the PSAT is a gateway for certain scholarship opportunities, especially the National Merit Scholarship Program and others through the Student Search Service. The PLAN is the equivalent to the PSAT for the ACT, so if your child intends to take the ACT next year, the PLAN offers good practice, too. And while you’re at it, if they’re taking the ACT, consider opting into the Educational Opportunity Service; like the SAT’s Student Search, the EOS will pass along your child’s information to colleges who can match them with scholarship opportunities.
  • Advanced Placement (AP) tests are worth taking. If your high schooler is taking any Advanced Placement courses, make sure they take the exams at the end of the year. (There are fee waivers available for students who need them.) As a reminder, your child can earn college credit for scoring well enough on AP exams, so if they’re up for it and your school offers them, AP courses offer an opportunity to save time and tuition dollars. (Want more help choosing the right high school courses? Our Navigators can help with that.)

Bottom line?

Even if your child won’t end up needing entrance exams for their college applications, it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead for them anyway. Khan Academy offers great test prep your high schooler can do for free, from home. By planning for the entrance exams, they’ll be in good shape no matter what happens.