Colleges say that ACT scores are only one small part of what they look at in the college admissions process. However, while that may be true, there’s also a very good chance that ACT scores are much more important to colleges than they’re willing to admit.

Why Colleges Won’t Admit Just How Important ACT Scores Are in the Admissions Process

It’s good PR for colleges to say that they are more interested in the “whole” student than in how well a student performs on a standardized test such as the ACT, especially in an age where standardized tests are so vehemently attacked by many.

So, if a college says that it doesn’t view ACT scores as a really important factor in its admissions process, you can’t really trust what it’s saying because that’s what colleges are supposed to say. Colleges have a very strong motivation to say that many other factors are equally as important as a student’s ACT score.

Most people have a negative view of standardized tests and of placing too much value on a standardized test score. Colleges recognize this, and so, for PR purposes, they will downplay the importance of ACT scores in their admissions process.

However, it’s almost certain that ACT scores are actually much more important than a college will admit…

Why ACT Scores are Important to Colleges

The reason why ACT scores are almost certainly more important to colleges than they’ll admit is because ACT scores are the best way for colleges to compare students fairly who come from very different schools. Since no two schools are alike, it’s almost impossible for colleges to compare students by the grades they get in high school or their GPA.

The ACT is unique in that every student who takes it takes the exact same test in the exact same way. And because of this, colleges can know far more about a student’s academic ability from his or her ACT score than from his or her grades in high school.

It’s very possible for a student to get good grades in high school simply because he or she had easy teachers or easy classes, yet get a low score on the ACT. However, the ACT is designed so that it’s almost impossible to beat the system and get a higher score than you are academically capable of. You simply need to have a certain amount of reading and math ability to get a good score on the ACT.

If colleges are looking at two students, one who scored a 31 on the ACT and one who scored a 22 on the ACT, it is almost certain that the student who scored the 31 will be preferred over the student who scored a 22, even if the student who scored a 22 has great extra-curricular achievements. Colleges will prefer the student with a higher ACT score for at least two reasons: 1) Higher ACT scores are a clearer indicator of truly being ready for college, and 2) Admitting students with higher ACT scores demonstrates more clearly that the college has a high standard, which results in a better reputation for the college.

Colleges want to be able to say they are selecting the best students from among applicants, and it will take a very, very good reason for a college to select a student with a far lower ACT score over a student with a higher ACT score, simply because most other factors in the admissions process are less tangible than ACT scores.

How We Know that ACT Scores are Important to Colleges

One way we can know for certain that ACT scores are important to colleges is the prevalence of merit-based scholarships. Most competitive colleges provide scholarships to students that are based on the student’s ACT/SAT score alone. For colleges, ACT scores are a reliable way to measure a student’s academic achievement, and they choose to reward students for getting certain ACT scores.

If ACT scores were not important in the admissions process, colleges would choose another standard by which to award merit-based scholarships. However, the fact that merit-based scholarships are based on ACT/SAT test scores shows that colleges see these standardized test scores as the most reliable and fair way to compare different students and judge their readiness for college.