Should You Still Apply Early with a Poor, Last Minute SAT Score?

Should you still apply early with a poor, last minute SAT score?

Every year, students are rushing to submit Early Decision and Early Actions applications in an attempt to gain a strategic advantage. Often times, these students submit early applications without regard for whether or not they proffered the best possible representation of themselves in their applications. A last minute SAT test can put these students in a tricky situation.

In many of these cases, an extra month of preparation, brainstorming, editing, and re-drafting application essays and various components of the Common Application can make a world of difference. Yes, that difference is usually much more impactful than the “edge” students get from applying in certain “Early” plans. Ask yourself: will my application suffer from rushing to meet these early application deadlines? If the answer is “yes”, the prudent response is clearly to not put the cart before the horse.

Nonetheless, this question takes on an added dimension when last minute SAT scores come into play. Students are often waiting to pull the trigger on an Early application depending upon how their latest SAT score ends up panning out. Generally, our counselors’ answer is still the same as it would be in the previously outlined scenario. Wait until you can put your best foot forward.

There is little good reason to risk rejection, or even risk making a bad impression upon your first read because of a poor, last minute SAT score, when you have another opportunity to take the test and showcase your true potential. Remember, many schools will not use “deferrals” as liberally as other schools will and try to avoid committing to redundant reads of applications by making the accept/reject decision upfront at the Early stage.

Here are a few questions that approximate a decision tree for you to consider when making the decision to wait and retake the SAT another time or to submit with the comparatively poor, last minute SAT score:

Should I Apply Early?

  1. How many times have you taken the SAT already? Will this be your third or even fourth sitting?
    1. If yes, make sure the school you’re applying to does not state anything on its Admission page about frowning upon more than two test sittings without extenuating circumstances. For an example, see the University of Chicago’s admissions page about standardized testing. They do superscore and encourage retakes, but they do not encourage excessive retaking of the SAT and ACT.  
    2. If no, proceed to Question 2.
  2. Is your most recent score hovering around or already above the median accepted score at your target Early school(s)?
    1. If yes, you may skip question 3 and continue with your plans to apply Early – if the rest of your application is in good shape.
    2. If no, you should wait for an improved score and apply Regular Decision.
  3. Do you genuinely believe it is likely you will see a significant improvement (more than 50 points)? [Good reasons to genuinely believe you will improve include the fact that you did not prepare much for the test or that you had some strong reason for performing poorly on test day that is highly unlikely to recur.]
    1. If yes, wait and apply Regular Decision.
    2. If no, you can apply Early (but you should recalibrate your expectations and adjust your target schools if necessary).


Making this decision is a highly individualized inquiry. For the most part, Early Action schools won’t give you the same “early bump” that some Early Decision schools can, so you particularly don’t want to rush to get those application in until they’re as pristine as can be.

Another thing to consider is your application as a whole. The standardized test scores are only a minor part of the process. Making sure you stand out by telling your unique story on the application is just as important as your SAT score. If your last minute SAT score is borderline, but your application besides that is complete, coherent, and compelling, then you should consider applying early. If your score is low and you will be rushed to finish your application, it is best to wait for later deadlines.


About the Author

David Mainiero, Co-Founder and Director of Operations of InGenius Prep, is an experienced educator and academic and admissions counselor with over almost a decade of experience helping students unlock their potential and achieve their dreams. Having founded and run multiple and small businesses, David has a strong entrepreneurial track record.

He graduated from Dartmouth College Summa Cum Laude with Highest Honors in History with a focus on Nationalism in the Near East and was inducted as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Several years later, he earned a JD from Harvard Law School. To this day, he believes that the most important moments in his own education were learning with his peers during his time as a Policy Debater in high school and college.

David knows firsthand what success looks like and how to achieve it; his passion to help students discover their own passions and realize their fullest potential motivates him to travel all around the world to share his visions for educational access.