For those who retain SAT scores, tips for completing the common application

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John Nordell / The Christian Science Monitor, via Getty Images

Update | 4:27 p.m. See below for a statement from the College Council.

As high school students and their counselors deepen into the fall, they will surely find themselves grappling with the fine print and ramifications of the College Board’s new Score Choice policy.

For the uninitiated, Score Choice is a new feature offered by the College Board that allows applicants to retain certain SAT scores (likely the lowest, though not necessarily that simple) from the colleges they are applying to. One potential complication: Several dozen universities, including Cornell, Rice, Tufts, and Yale, require students to submit all SAT scores for each occasion they took the test.

Already, seniors who have tried to complete the Joint Request have flooded the Joint Request Support Center with Score Choice-related questions and reports that they are “baffled.” This is the description that Rob Killion, the executive director of the Common App, used in an email message I received on Tuesday evening.

The problem is the “self-reported test” section of the common app, in which applicants are asked to indicate their standardized test scores on the universal admission form, which is accepted by nearly 400 colleges. To allay applicants’ anxiety, Killion wants them to know that one of their options is simple: leave that particular section of the application blank.

This is how Mr. Killion formulates the essential question: If students want to “withhold grades from some institutions, but are required to disclose all grades for others,” how should they respond to the section of the Common Application that asks them to declare “their results on standardized tests? The whole idea of ​​the Common Application, after all, is that students don’t have to complete separate applications for each college that accepts it.

First, Mr Killion would like to remind applicants that grades they “self-report” on the Common Application are considered by colleges to be unofficial. Official grades – or at least those nominated by the candidate – will be sent to colleges directly by the College Board. The Common Application is therefore not, in effect, the last word.

So why even ask the question about the test score on the Common App?

In short, says Mr. Killion, many colleges prefer to have some or all of the self-reported scores in order to expedite the processing of their application before the official scores arrive.

And yet, the Common App currently does not allow applicants to customize how they ‘self-report’ scores at different colleges – or, to put it another way, report a full list of scores to colleges that require full accounting, and a more limited list of those that do not require all grades to be submitted.

While applicants, parents and counselors will no doubt want to come together on how best to answer this question, Mr Killion said he wanted to make sure applicants know they can leave this section of common request empty.

Some applicants calling the Common Applications Support Center worried that leaving this part blank would, from a purely technical standpoint, prevent them from hitting the “submit” button at the end of the process. Mr. Killion assures us that in such cases the request will always be accepted.

Neither does Killion say that leaving the “self-reported test” section blank does not violate the assurance candidates are required to give that they have answered all questions honestly. “Ultimately,” said Mr. Killion, “students can choose to leave this section blank if they wish, without fear of penalty.”

I contacted the College Board late Wednesday afternoon for comment on Mr. Killion’s email message and received a statement from the organization on Thursday. In it, the College Board endorsed his opinion, saying:

If students using the Common App are unsure of which score sets to report, we suggest that they simply leave the standardized test fields blank. Score reports sent by the College Board directly to institutions are the official transmissions of SAT scores, and universities must have the official transmission.

The board statement added:

It is important for students to keep in mind that around 400 institutions accept the joint application and, as has always been the case, these institutions have different admission requirements, including SAT report requirements. Students should review the requirements of the colleges they are applying to to ensure that they meet all the requirements, including submitting their SAT scores.

Finally, the College Board recommended a link to its website – //collegesearch.collegeboard.com/search/index.jsp – where the SAT requirements for many colleges are located.

Before you sign out of this article, please take a moment to use the comment box below to share with The Choice readers your thoughts on Score Choice so far.

Bill McClintick, a college counselor who recently completed his tenure as president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, explained the basics of Score Choice in a Q.&A on this blog earlier this month.

Among the concerns Mr. McClintick raised regarding the choice of scores: Colleges generally like to consider a student’s higher scores in the verbal and math sections of the SAT. But for students who take the test more than once, these high scores may be recorded on different days. Under Choice of Score, a student cannot submit a verbal score from one day while retaining a math score from the same day, or vice versa. For each test date, it’s all or nothing.

The College Board has posted its official score selection policy on its website.


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