When you register for the ACT exam, you’ll be asked to provide much more information than just your name and address. You’ll also be asked to fill out details on your classes, grades, and extracurricular activities. ACT gathers this information for its own research. In exchange for your data, ACT will provide you with a section of your score report called “College and Career Planning.”
Most counselors will tell you not to take this career planning report too seriously. Your interests in high school and college will likely change as you’re exposed to more opportunities. When reviewing the report, most students ignore this section altogether, noticing that it simply confirms what they already knew about themselves or that it doesn’t really capture the full scope of their interests.
College and Career Planning only appears on the Student Score Report [you can read more about interpreting your Student Score Report here]; an entirely different report goes to colleges when you request your scores to be sent. In fact, the supplementary information you supply takes up more than half of the ACT College Report.
To get a handle on what college admission officers see, let’s break down Ann Taylor’s sample College Report ACT provides.
The first third of the College Report displays the same scaled and detailed scores that students see on their own reports. The one difference is that US Rank is immediately followed by Institutional Rank, meaning ACT highlights your score in relation to those of the college’s most recent freshman class.
To the right of these scores, under “Information Reported by the Student,” the first thing ACT lists is “College Choice.” In the sample, University of Omega is listed as student Ann Taylor’s first choice! A University of Omega admission officer who sees this ranking might well conclude that if she offers Ann a spot in the freshman class, Ann would likely take the offer.
We’ve written about the concept of demonstrated interest [elsewhere on our blog], but here’s the general idea: schools are looking for ways to identify students who are really serious about accepting admission offers. Designating your top school as #1 might seem to be an effective strategy, but what message are you sending to the admission office of your fourth-choice school?
Most students don’t realize they’re demonstrating interest when they fill out the test registration and select the schools where they want their four included reports sent. Here’s an image of the registration screen:
Similarly, you are asked to select from a series of preferences about the kind of college you may want to attend. Alongside your scores, your preferences are reported to each school. If you select a public 4-year co-ed university in California, that all-women liberal arts college in Massachusetts where you’re also applying might raise an eyebrow.
The back of the report lists more information that you’ve given ACT: high school, subjects studied, extracurricular activities, background, financial aid, enrollment and housing plans, interests, and even weaknesses. Some of these data points are more fraught then others, but all could be used by a school trying to create a well-balanced freshman class.
The ACT College Report concludes with a section called “Chances of Success at [University].” In order for college entrance exams to be accepted as valid, they have to be valid AT something. In the case of the ACT and SAT, they are “valid” at predicting success freshman year, even though this validity routinely undergoes controversy.
If the university to which you’re applying participates in ACT Research Services, ACT will display your chance of receiving a C or better and a B or better in a variety of classes. These chances are based on how others with your score have performed in these classes in the past. In Ann’s sample case, 49% of First-Time Students with her score range received a B or better, so the assumption is that Ann shares a 49% chance of receiving that same grade.
Colleges might use this information to estimate what additional supportive programs will be needed for an incoming class, or they might use these chances as a way to make admission decisions.
You may find that the best approach is to decline the four score reports included in your registration so that you can avoid ranking schools. Though you will incur additional charges, you will gain more control over what exactly gets sent if you wait to send until after you’ve received your scores. Similarly, you may find that leaving some preferences set to “no preference” will show greater flexibility if you’re applying to many different kinds of schools.
The sample College Report demonstrates that you might be unintentionally sharing a lot of information about yourself with schools by filling out your ACT registration. Of course, just because colleges see all of this information doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll factor it into their decisions. There’s a real chance that they simply scrape your scores into their application software and completely ignore your stated interests and profile.
In other words, it’s not worth your time and energy to worry about trying to answer each question in the way you imagine your top colleges would want, but it’s worth being aware that all of the schools where you apply will see the information you reveal.