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Standardized Tests – Helping You Score Money For College

Today’s article comes from Marc R. Hill, founder of Reduce My College Costs, LLC. He is a Certified College Planning Specialist (CCPS), a Registered Financial Consultant (RFC®) and a charter member of the National College Advocacy Group (NCAG). Marc assists American families to afford college by offering objective college planning services. We are pleased to have Marc as a Contributor on


College admission offices are a bit like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On the one hand, since they represent institutions of higher learning, they want to meet freshman enrollment goals with the most academically gifted students as possible. Conversely, they may also practice what was referred to me by a former head of admissions of an Ivy League school as “institutional engineering,” where admission offers are extended based on other objectives.

So, in effect, they may have two admission processes being practiced at the same time. For the latter, they may focus on athletic scholarships, admitting minority, low income or disadvantaged candidates, addressing legacies and early decision issues, or extending offers to full pay applicants or applicants of a specific gender.

On the other hand, merit-based admission offers are becoming increasingly harder to discern between candidates due to increased enrollment in honors, AP, and college courses in high school, grade inflation, multiple valedictorians and other such factors. This can be coupled with a complete “scrubbing” of the candidates who use independent professionals to build resumes with activities and accomplishments while assisting with essay writing efforts. Finally, high school personnel can also feel the pressure and may be reluctant to lessen a student’s chances, which could inflate recommendations.

In the midst of all this admissions madness, the two items that stand out that can assist you in obtaining merit aid are:

1) High School Transcripts

2) Standardized Test Scores

High school transcripts “trump” standardized test scores day in and day out. That being said, colleges do pay for specific performance on these tests.

Keep in mind that merit money is offered based upon the applicant’s academic performance and standardized test scores. Schools take pride in their mean test scores and publish these results for all to see, including their competition. Therefore, if your child can assist in elevating their mean scores, he or she has just step to the head of the line for merit-based aid and you get to rake in the savings.

How to Use this Information to Obtain Merit Aid

Let’s assume for the sake of the following example that your child took both the SAT and ACT with following scores:

SAT Critical Reading: 600

SAT Math: 589

SAT Writing: 603

ACT Composite: 24

Step 1

In order to compare your child’s test scores to those published by your desired schools visit Below the section “For Students” is a search box entitled “Search by college name.” For illustrative purposes enter Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Under the admissions header click on SAT®, AP®, CLEP® which will take you to the screen below:

Metropolitan State College of Denver

Denver, Colorado
College Board code: 4505

Print Full Profile Print Full Profile

Test Scores

Middle 50% of
First-Year Students

Percent Who
Submitted Scores

SAT Critical Reading:

450 – 550


SAT Math:

420 – 550


SAT Writing:

ACT Composite:

18 – 22


How Do I Stack Up?

How does your child stack up? I’d say pretty well. Not only would this be considered a safety school based upon standardized test scores (child’s score is greater than published scores), she is also in the upper 25th percentile! Long story short: If this school has merit money, she has just stepped to the front of the line.

Step 2

To find out if the school has merit based aid and what the average award package is visit Type in the school’s name and you will be taken to a screen that has as a sub-heading “Keyfacts®”- below this sub-heading (in a gray box) click on the “Financial Aid” tab and scroll down almost to the bottom of the page to the section below:

Financial Aid for Freshman & Returning Students






% receiving need based aid:

% receiving merit based aid:

% receiving self help aid:

Avg. need based amount:


Avg. merit based amount:


Avg. self help amount:


As you can see, the average merit based award for incoming freshman was only $436. The remaining average award package consisted of loans ($3,423) and work study ($1,521). But before you imagine those savings slipping away, keep in mind that in this institution’s eyes your child is anything but average. Don’t get discouraged!

Step 3

To find out Metro’s sources of merit based funds visit Under the heading “Search by College Name” click on “View the Directory.” In this case, click “Colorado” under “Choose a State” and find Metropolitan State College of Denver Scholarships. As you can see, this institution has 151 different sources of potential merit based aid and many are available to the incoming freshman class. In our case, that means they can potentially dip into these sources to pay for your daughter’s standardized test performance.

Another cool thing about this website is that you can enter in specific information regarding your child, including her test scores, and the site will notify you of schools who potentially will offer merit aid to her – all for the low, low price of FREE! Talk about the price is right.

Step 4

Although online searches will certainly help with the assessment of the competitiveness of your child’s potential application, nothing trumps personal discussions with college admission and financial representatives.

So be sure and pick up the phone and make appointments with these individuals should you decide to apply.

Finally, keep in mind that typically institutions will pay more merit based aid the higher your child’s score is from their mean. Using Metro’s mean composite ACT score of 20, you would expect them to offer more merit based funds to an applicant with an ACT composite score of 28 versus an applicant with a composite score of 22. A call to the admissions office may be able to uncover their “scaling” of merit based aid and be able to assist you in your discussions with this and other institutions your child is considering.

Standardized Tests At A Glance


· Standardized test administered globally by the College Board

· Along with transcripts, teacher recommendations and extracurricular activities, selective colleges use SAT scores to  predict likelihood of success

· Online registration at

· Administered 7 times per year

· $45 dollar fee

· Generally held on Saturday mornings

· Total test time is 3 hours and 45 minutes

· Scores typically available online 10-20 days after exam (mailed one month after test)

· Penalizes ¼ point for wrong answer

· Maximum score- 2400

· Average SAT scores for the class of 2009

a. Critical Reading: 501

b. Mathematics: 515

c. Writing: 494

d. Composite: 1510


· Along with transcripts, teacher recommendations and extracurricular activities, some colleges use ACT scores to predict the likelihood of academic success

· Administered globally by the ACT (American College Test) Corporation

· Online registration at

· Administered 6 times per year

· Registration fee: $32 w/o Writing; $47 with Writing

· Generally held on  Saturday mornings

· Total test time is 3 hrs and 55 minutes (4 hrs 25 min with Writing)

· No penalty for wrong answers- so make your best guess if unsure

· ACT multiple –choice scores are typically available online 10-30 days after exam (Writing score is usually posted 2 weeks later)

· Maximum composite score- 36

· Average composite score for the class of 2009- 21.1

Final Thoughts

Whew! I know; that was a lot of information! But when it comes to standardized tests, it pays (sometimes literally) to be informed. With some hard work on your child’s part and a solid test score, it may ultimately reduce your college costs. So, happy studying and happy savings!

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