Please help with SAT strategy pivot (esp. w/rolling admissions this fall)

I have a junior who is a bit of a late bloomer/struggled with a year of virtual math instruction. The common strategy of “take the SAT in the fall of junior year” was not a fit for her. She was working on strengthening other skills and has made a lot of progress across many fronts. I had reassured her that she could take the SAT in the fall of senior year.

So here we are - she is planning on rolling/EA to every school on her current list. Fall SAT is not looking so good, timing-wise. The biggest concern is University of Pittsburgh.

She should really apply as early as possible. She will receive her senior year schedule in late August. Ideally she pops that into the SRAR and hits submit.

I just looked at SAT dates. The likely August date is the 26th. That means scores will come… probably too late for a Pitt application. There is no July date (this is my oldest child - I didn’t realize).

I’d like her to prep with Khan Academy, maybe get some targeted private tutoring, and take it more than once. I also don’t want her to screw up her grades while focusing on the SAT.

At any point, we she could bail and go TO. She really wants to try - especially with a 710 on the reading portion of the PSAT (low math, but we hope with Khan academy, she can fill in the holes of her math foundation).

How would you structure the timing of prep, tests, etc?

A few thoughts:

-Many schools, including Pitt, are test optional. Does she have any test required schools on her tentative/current list?

-Why the SAT and not the ACT?

-If she applies to Pitt in mid-Sept, when she would receive the Aug test results, that will probably be ok. Is Pitt a reach, match, or highly likely for her based on her grades and rigor?

-Khan academy can be great…for students who are disciplined and have the motivation to do the review work on their own. Is this something your D is committed to doing during the summer?

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Agree on looking into ACT, which has one out of four sections of math rather than SAT’s one out of two. It was the better option for my D24 who had lots of COVID learning gaps in math but is an excellent reader and overall language kid. She also did targeted tutoring for the test, results have not been posted yet after last week’s test, but her confidence has grown tremendously. I don’t think it’s too late to prep if you register for a test several months out and make a formal plan for prep.

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Concerns about the ACT: she has slow processing speed, but also average-to-low stamina. Not sure she could get extra time, but also don’t think she could benefit from a super-long test day.

Also, she hasn’t taken physics yet at all (she will take it as a senior).

That does suggest the SAT could be better, but note the SAT is a longer test than the ACT (right now, until the digital SAT launches next year). There is also no physics on the ACT science section…it’s not really about science, it’s about reading comprehension and interpreting graphs/data.


All schools on her list are test optional. She knows she could skip the whole thing, but she has stated she would like to at least try to get a good score.

Rigor: lots of IB classes, but most are SL (history and art are HL). 5 IB classes this year and 6 planned for next year.
GPA: based on how the year has gone so far, expect her to have a 4.0 weighted GPA at the end of this year. Best case, just shy of 4.2. Realistic is probably 4.05-4.1.
She visited, which is what they like for demonstrated interest (per CDS, interest is “important”).

Her intended major is film, which is in Dietrich. I think it’s a match, with a good shot if she truly applies early enough. It is one of her top two choices at the moment, and is the only one of her top two that is within budget without any merit.

She is pretty motivated, but I’m worried about August test result timing.

For some reason, I thought ACT science covered basic bio, chem, and physics? I know that the test is mostly about reading comprehension - just worried she doesn’t also have time to learn some basic physics concepts.

My kids prepped for the act and sat with a tutor, once a week for an hour, and then they’d take a practice test during the week, and go over the results with the tutor. It was extremely helpful for strategies. My kids are all stronger in math than english.

Pitt, and many schools, will do their own GPA calc, which often is unweighted…just something to know going forward.

I do think applying to Pitt in mid Sept should be early enough. OTOH I would think long and hard if there is any score she could reasonably achieve that you both think would make a difference in the app. There is a cost to all of the prep and sitting for the test, and it may not have any payoff at all.

Pitt reports weighted GPA for their freshman profile and the CDS.

For other schools, yes, we pay attention to the unweighted. Hers is currently 3.65, and we expect it go up this year. She does not receive semester grades, only end of year grades, but if she did, her UW and W GPA would be higher.

She has a good shot at being above their 50th percentile for Dietrich (with only half submitting anyway), so I think for film, that should help her application.

With an Aug 26 SAT, do you think she’d have a score in hand by mid September?

My daughter (also with slow processing speed and mild dyscalculia) applied to 13 schools test optional and was accepted to all of them with merit. She had a 3.99 weighted GPA and while she didn’t apply to Pitt she was accepted to schools ranked higher with lower acceptance rates.

Please don’t stress out about test scores. They really don’t come into play for most schools now. If you were trying to get into the Top20 maybe, but even then.

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What other film schools is she looking at? Are you PA residents? Portfolio matters more than test scores. Went through this with S21.

Penn State Bellisario has a film program. So does Temple if you’re ok with Philly.

Pitt’s film program is new but growing.

As for testing, unless your D is serious about prepping it’s probably best to go TO. If she’s serious about prepping then take the test as soon as she’s done prepping.

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Thank you. I genuinely don’t mind if she scraps the whole thing and goes TO. I have talked to her about this option. She was a top student until middle school when some significant health issues hit. Then the pandemic… She hates feeling different from her peers - the ones she could easily keep up with until 7th grade - and she’s been working hard to catch up in academics, maturity, executive functioning, etc.

She wants to try, and my telling her she doesn’t have to feels to her like I don’t believe in her. While I appreciate reassurance that she doesn’t have to take the SAT, I’m really looking for help in how to support her taking it.

She wants liberal arts only - no BFA programs. We are not PA residents. Pitt does not take portfolios at all. She is not interested in portfolio-based programs.

At Pitt, you can indicate a major, but if you are applying to the school of arts and sciences (Dietrich), you are admitted as undecided. They just generally pay attention to the distribution of majors, as they cannot have a class full of neuroscience majors.

I get it, I really do. All the best for you and your daughter. I’m sure no matter how the testing works out, she’ll be great.

I wonder if she could apply test optional and then add her scores later if she wants to? Many of the schools D23 applied to had that as an option. That way she could feel better about that August test date?


I’ve heard that once you are test optional, there’s no going back, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true or not. I’m sure she could update her scores if she got better ones in August. I just don’t know whether she could change her status from TO to submitting.

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If she really wants to take the test, she has time and interest to prep, and you can afford it, I’d look into one on one tutoring, especially a tutor who will assign practice tests and targeted support in the areas needed. While I agree overall that scores are not needed with TO landscape, my D wanted to take her shot at the test too, and we did what we could to help her be successful, knowing she could decide whether to submit or not once she got her scores. Regardless of the outcome, she’s learned a lot through the process of studying and taking the test.

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Then see how the test prep goes, whenever she chooses to start that. If a tutor is in the budget that could be better than Khan (again depending on her self motivation and mindset).

Results often come within 2 weeks. You mentioned she has slow-processing speed…does she have an IEP? Extended time on the SAT? If so, the extended time results can take longer. When she is prepping for the test make sure she is taking timed practice tests and being strict about that. Doing the prep without putting herself under the time pressure of the test won’t be helpful.

Thank you. We had previously thought in terms of prep over the summer. It’s harder to squeeze in formal prep during junior year on top of math tutoring, therapy, activities, and her other issues (homework takes longer, her stamina is not amazing).
She seems to have long covid at the moment, so it’s not a great time as parents to try to light a fire underneath her…

I agree she could learn from the process anyway - and frankly, I feel like the targeted Khan Academy part could strengthen her math foundation regardless, which is a positive.

She has a 504. Extra time on school tests, but we’ve never applied for extra time with the college board. The SAT is so long already - we agreed that time and a half would make that last section too difficult, due to stamina.