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Low SAT Scores? Work With What You’ve Got.

It’s official. You have your SAT score in your hand. And…it doesn’t look pretty.

Suddenly, everything’s flying out the window. Scholarships, dream colleges, that haircut you were looking forward to getting…

Hold up. Aren’t you being a little overdramatic?

Like I mentioned in our last article, if this sounds like you, there are two main avenues you can take:

And since I already thoroughly covered the improving-your-score path, I’m going to head down the other one this time.

Improving your score is all well and good if you have the time to do it. (And the energy.) But there is another option. And in this article, I’m going to give you tips on making the very best of the score in your hand…and still achieving your goals.

Ready? Let’s go!

Take extra time on your applications to make them really sparkling

Ah, the application.

Shockingly, your SAT scores are not the only thing you send in your college application. There’s a LOT more that goes into that little (usually digital) package, and each of those items are another chance to impress the admissions officer.

Don’t throw any of these out the window!

(I mean, if you’re really excited about them, and you print them out and throw them out your window in a celebratory fashion, fine. But then pick them up! Don’t be a litterbug.)

Application essays

Think about application essays like this.

There’s an admissions officer somewhere, at your college of choice. They have to come to work and sift through HUNDREDS of applications.

And all of them? They look pretty similar. It’s like a checklist:

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Your application is a general summary of who you are, and how you fit into the evaluative boxes of that particular college.

But you know what it doesn’t have?

Your voice.

Your application essay is your chance to sit down with the admissions officer, grab them by the shirt collar, and tell them your story. Charm them. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them feel a thing.

However you do it, set yourself apart. Your essay is your one big chance to be so uniquely you, and very much on display.

So if you have low test scores, but your essay is fantastic, the admissions officer just might give your application another look.

Letters of recommendation

Much like the essay, these letters of recommendation (required for many more prestigious colleges) are a chance for other, respected, people to brag about you to the admissions officer.

Take a good, hard look at all of the adults in your life. Who knows you? Who really knows you? Which teacher did you click with the most?

What about the woman who owns a bakery down the street, where you volunteer your extra time?

If you’ve got a really great relationship with your teacher, employer, or otherwise-somewhat-important adult, use that to your advantage.

A good recommendation from trusted members of society can do wonders in lieu of a great SAT score.


What kind of clubs are you in?

Do you faithfully go to chess club every Friday? Did you start a chess club your freshman year? Are you involved in chess clubs outside of school?

If you’re lucky enough to already have a passion, and show it outwardly, then flaunt it!

Excellent grades

Are you right on the edge between an A and a B in a couple classes? Put in the extra work to make sure you end up with an A on your transcript!

Think of it as a job interview. If it comes down to you and some other applicant, and the thing standing in your way is that you have 4 A’s on your transcript, and they have 5…won’t you wish you had studied a little more?

Of course, the issue with these is that they all take years to properly develop. So if you’re just now reading this and thinking about starting a club…well, it’s probably a little too late for your admissions team.

But don’t give up! You still have options.

Consider colleges that accept low SAT scores, or don’t require SAT scores

Some things to keep in mind with this one.

1. The SATs can be complicated. What are they really testing? And if you don’t do well, does that mean you’re not smart? Or you can’t be successful?

Oh, please. You can absolutely be successful. Success is multi-tiered, and doesn’t fully depend on how well you answer a string of questions in 11th grade.

2. Your dream school might not be a great fit for you. Have you been dreaming of an Ivy League school? Ivy Leagues can be great…but they’ve also got their issues. Common complaints sometimes include:

  • High-pressure academics
  • Intimidating, wealthy atmosphere
  • Professors don’t always teach their own classes (TA’s step in)

This might not be new information, and Ivy Leagues are excellent in many ways…but the point is that one specific college might not be your soulmate.

Maybe it’s far from home, and you’ll realize sophomore year that you wish you were closer.

Maybe it’s really small, and you’ll wish you had a bigger student body to interact with.

There’s a lot you don’t know about yourself yet, and there are a TON of universities in the world. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this was your one and only!

Now that you’ve had a little bit to think about it, here’s a list of colleges that don’t require SAT scores.

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Here’s a little snippet of the TEN PAGES OF UNIVERSITIES to choose from.

There are so many great schools out there! You can even cross-reference these schools in College Niche to see which ones fit your personality best.

If you still want to go to your dream school, consider transferring

Okay, so let’s say your heart’s still set on your dream school.

First, I commend you for holding tight to your desires.

Second, here’s a secret–it’s still totally possible! Especially if you start out at a community college or state school, and then transfer.

If you’re going to transfer, here are some things to keep in mind while you’re at your starter school:

  • Develop good relationships with professors (you’ll need recommendations!)
  • Get involved and show initiative. (What do you want to do? If you want to major in photography at such-and-such school, become a big part of the photography program at your current school–or even start a club!)
  • Make sure you have excellent grades. (Form study groups and budget your time wisely!)

And when it’s time to transfer to your dream school, stay on top of your application deadlines! This is just like when you first applied–make sure your application is sparkly and shiny in every possible way!


Just because your SAT scores are lower than you expected, you’ve still got the same, totally attainable, dream destination.

If you’re working with what you’ve got, remember to:

  1. Take extra time on your applications to make them really sparkling
  2. Consider colleges that accept low SAT scores, or don’t require SAT scores
  3. If you still want to go to your dream school, consider transferring

Good luck! We’re all rooting for you. 🙂

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Where are you hoping to go? Leave a comment below!

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Dressler Parsons

Dressler Parsons spent most of her childhood in an adobe house her father built in rural Arizona. Right now, she's taking so many business and art classes at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, and plans to graduate in Fall 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia. And, handily enough, her SAT scores and grades qualified her for ASU's Presidential Scholarship (worth $24,000), as well as the AIMS tuition waiver. She is passionate about showing people their potential for a bright, beautiful future. In her free time, she cooks edible things and knits inedible ones.
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