In 2017 it doesn’t matter which test you take. Any college that requires standardized test scores for admission will accept either exam– with no preference given to one over the other.
Old habits die hard.
There are geographical preferences for certain tests that go back decades. Traditionally the ACT was most popular in the Midwest while the SAT was popular here in Texas and on the east and west coasts.
When I took the SAT & ACT (in the 1980’s) some colleges didn’t accept the ACT. That practice died out over a decade ago when all schools — even the elite Ivy League schools– decided to accept the ACT.
The ACT may offer an advantage.
This is one of those little details that might tip the scales in favor of the ACT. Some highly competitive schools ask students to submit SAT Subject Tests in addition to the regular SAT or ACT. (More on SAT Subject Tests here.) However, some schools will accept the ACT in place of the SAT + SAT Subject Tests. In these cases, one ACT can take the place of two Saturdays worth of SAT exams.
So why do I only see SAT (or ACT) averages on XYZ’s website?
Colleges are subject to the same historic and geographical trends we’ve already discussed. You might see only SAT averages on a school’s website if a majority of its applicants submitted SAT scores for admission. That school may not have enough students applying with the ACT to publish those scores. Just because you don’t see ACT (or SAT) averages in printed material or on the school’s website doesn’t mean those scores aren’t equally valued for admission.
Focus on the test that’s best for you.
Because there isn’t a “preferred” exam for colleges, you should take the exam that showcases your strengths. Yes, you can take both, but in my experience students are busy and have better things to do than to prep for two different exams when one will do.
Not sure which one to take? Use the official practice tests from College Board and ACT. Compare scores by comparing your percentiles. You can use this chart.
There is no better test– no favored test for admissions. The best test to take is the one that will allow you to get the highest scores possible.