Even though your high school freshman, sophomore or junior has just returned to school, now is the time for these students to plan for college.

For decades, two standardized tests, the ACT and SAT, have been the benchmarks for helping determine which colleges are within a student’s reach.

“As a college and career counselor, I consider both tests to be equal in purpose,” said Mary Giunta, who works at Affton High School.

“The ACT assesses content and problem-solving knowledge where the SAT is an aptitude test. Missouri is an ACT state,” she said. “In the past, local colleges focused on the ACT, but currently, they do not usually have a preference over what test the student takes.”

Abby Peterson, a counselor and the counseling department chairperson at Kirkwood High School, believes in the value of standardized testing.

“A standardized test should always support whatever a student’s GPA is. A standardized test works as a way to show a score from a knowledge-based perspective that students take from all over the world.”

Another area high school counselor offered a dissenting opinion.

“I don’t know that testing helps prepare students for college at all,” said Karen Verstraete, a counselor at Webster Groves High School. “Testing helps students gain admission to college and receive merit-based scholarships for college.

“In my opinion, the best way for students to prepare for college is to take rigorous, college prep courses in high school,” she said. “Students who learn to think critically, are intrinsically motivated and those who communicate effectively are often the best prepared for college.”

Giunta said many Affton High School students treat the ACT as a sort of “dry run.”

“The ACT test is supposed to show the extent of knowledge the student has of the core subjects in school,” she said. “Many students choose to take it without prepping first to see where they score. This is usually during their sophomore or junior year of high school. This gives them the opportunity to see what subjects they need to better prepare for and practice to improve.”

Schools such as the University of Chicago and DePaul University have stopped requiring the ACT or SAT test results, also known as test-optional. These types of universities open new questions for students.

“If you don’t send [test results], are they wondering why you didn’t?” said Giunta. “I question that if it doesn’t matter when it comes to acceptance, does it matter when they look at different scholarship opportunities?”

She said this transition away from test scores is still very new, so covering all angles ensures a student does not miss opportunities—whether they involve college acceptance or funding.

“I tell all of my students to meet with me to discuss all the universities they plan to apply to, whether they are test-optional or not,” Peterson said. “Applying to college is an individualized process and applying should center around what university will be a good fit for a student academically, socially and financially.”

Lindbergh High School college and career counselor Kate Keegan also advocates for stressing aspects that will separate a student from the throng of other applicants.

“That is especially important when applying to highly selective colleges and universities,” said Keegan. “Their transcripts and scores will all look the same, but leadership roles, teacher recommendation letters and classroom experiences can really shine.”

Giunta summed up the current approach most colleges take toward their students.

“Leadership skills, service to the community and grit are all a part of the process now,” she said. “Colleges are understanding the value of looking at a student as a whole person, not just as a test score.”