Withholding SAT Scores

For Those Withholding SAT Scores, Advice on Completing the Common Application

By Jacques Steinberg
 Withholding SAT Scores pic
John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor

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

For the uninitiated, Score Choice is a new feature being offered by the College Board that allows applicants to withhold some SAT scores (presumably their lowest, though it’s not necessarily that simple) from the colleges to which they are applying. One potential complication: several dozen colleges, including Cornell, Rice, Tufts and Yale, require students to submit all SAT scores from every occasion in which they have taken the test.

Already, those seniors who have sought to get a jump on filling out the Common Application have been inundating the Common Application support center with questions related to Score Choice, and with reports that they are “flummoxed.” That’s the description Rob Killion, the executive director of the Common Application, used in an   e-mail message to me late Tuesday night.

At issue is the “self-reported test” section of the Common App, in which applicants are asked to list their standardized test scores on the universal admissions form, which is accepted by nearly 400 colleges. To ease applicants’ anxiety, Mr. Killion wants them to know that among their options is a simple one: to leave this particular section of the application blank.

Here is how Mr. Killion frames the essential question: If students want to “withhold scores from some institutions, but are required to disclose all scores for others,” how should they answer the section of the Common Application that asks them to “self-report” their standardized test scores? The whole idea of the Common App, after all, is that students not be forced to fill out separate applications for each college that accepts it.

First, Mr. Killion wants to remind applicants that any scores that they “self-report” on the Common Application are considered by the colleges to be unofficial. The official scores — or at least, the ones designated by the applicant — will be sent to the colleges directly by the College Board. So the Common Application is not, in effect, the last word.

Then why even ask the test-score question on the Common App?

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

And yet, the Common App does not currently permit applicants to customize how they “self-report” scores to different colleges — or, to put it another way, to report a full list of scores to those colleges that demand a full accounting, and a more limited list to those that do not require that all scores be submitted.

While applicants, parents and counselors will no doubt want to huddle on how best to answer this question, Mr. Killion said he wanted to make sure that applicants knew they could leave this section of the Common Application blank.

Some applicants calling in to the Common Application support center have worried that leaving that part blank would, from a purely technical standpoint, keep them from being able to press the “submit” button at the end of the process. Mr. Killion assures that, in such cases, the application will still go through.

Leaving the “self-reported test” section blank is also, Mr. Killion says, in no way a violation of the assurance that applicants must give that they have answered all questions truthfully. “At the end of the day,” Mr. Killion says, “students may choose to leave this section blank if they choose, without fear of penalty.”

I reached out to the College Board late Wednesday afternoon seeking comment on Mr. Killion’s e-mail message, and received a statement from the organization on Thursday. In it, the College Board endorsed his advice, saying,

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

The College Board statement added:

It is important for students to keep in mind that almost 400 institutions accept the Common Application, and, as has always been the case, these institutions have differing admissions requirements, including SAT reporting requirements. Students should review the requirements of the colleges to which they are applying to ensure that they fulfill all the requirements, including submission of their SAT scores.

Before logging out of this post, please take a moment to use the comment box below to let readers of The Choice know your thoughts on Score Choice thus far.

Bill McClintick, a college counselor who recently ended his term 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 Score Choice: Colleges typically like to consider a student’s highest scores on the verbal and math sections of the SAT. But for students who take the test more than once, those high scores might be recorded on different days. Under Score Choice, a student cannot submit a verbal score from one day while withholding a math score from the same day, or vice versa. For each testing date, it’s all or nothing.

The College Board has its official Score Choice policy posted on its site.

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