The SAT & ACT Go To Art School

SAT ACT pencilsThis past Sunday, The New York Times Education Life section focused on the college admissions landscape, and the changes occurring in and around standardized tests. According to the Times, ACT test takers are on the rise and, more than ever before, applicants are choosing to submit scores from both the SAT and ACT as part of their college submissions.

Naturally, this piqued my curiosity. I wondered what role the SAT and ACT play in the admissions process at an art college.

As a right-brainer myself, taking standardized tests was never my forte. However, the SAT and ACT analyze how you think. Consequently, they play a critical role in the college admission process. Bottom line: you still need to take them.

Some schools, like the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, don’t require either test, but they are in the minority. David Sigman, Director of Admissions for Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design put it this way: “We strongly encourage students to submit standardized test scores, if they are available, but only so that the student’s application file is as comprehensive as possible.” In other words, the SAT and ACT are an integral part of the process. They help tell the story of the whole student.

According to Dustin Liebenow, Director of Marketing Communications and Enrollment Management at Pratt, the average ACT score for incoming freshmen is 26/27. The average SAT verbal and math score combined is 1200. Dustin summed up what I found at most other top art schools that require standardized scores; there is no minimum score threshold nor a preference for which test is submitted. Schools consider test scores along with the rest of each student’s application.

SAT ACT signageAnalytical thinking skills are a critical component to an artistic education. In order to succeed in any classroom students need to be able to objectively scrutinize what is being taught, whether in a studio setting or a liberal arts environment. “Professors want their students to succeed in the classroom,” explained Densil Porteous, Director of Admissions at Columbus College for Art & Design (CCAD). “Ability, portfolios, academic competencies and how students present themselves are all considered.” CCAD Assistant Director of Outreach and Recruitment Thom Glick explained further that standardized scores are reviewed with GPA and letters of recommendation in the academic section of an application. Portfolios make up the creative component.

Taryn Wolf, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) got into the scoring details for me. At MICA, where the average ACT of enrolled students is up to 28 this year, the school considers individual ACT “sub-scores” and SAT “super-scores” for whichever test is submitted. What are sub- and super-scores? Consider them the parts that make up the whole, (a 580 in Math on the SAT or a 32 in English on the ACT). The benefit is if you take a standardized test multiple times and score higher in different areas each time, you can submit all your tests and the college will use the highest and best component scores. Yes, it means taking the test multiple times, but the end result is a win-win.

None of the schools I contacted could tell me whether they’ve actually seen a rise in ACT over SAT submissions, nor did any of them mention a rise in applicants submitting both tests. However, they all agree the exams are valuable. Even the colleges that don’t use them when considering admissions find them helpful when considering scholarship opportunities.

So what does the future look like in the world of the ACT and SAT? Changes are afoot for both. 12 states now require (and pay for) their public high school juniors to take the ACT. I’m guessing more will follow. And, beginning in 2015, students will be able to take the ACT on-line. The folks at College Board, managers of the SAT, are making changes as well. They say “the heart of the revised SAT will be analyzing evidence.” Stay tuned.

If you’re at all like I was, taking these structured tests can seem daunting. Remember that even though they’re necessary, they are only one part of your application picture. With a strong portfolio and dedication to your academic grades, you’ll end up at a great school and be able to pursue an education in the world of art.

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