Do SAT Scores Need to Be Submitted by a College Application Deadline?

Second only to low SAT test scores, sending scores too late to count towards your college application is the ultimate nightmare. You worked hard, you made all the right moves, and you came out with an SAT score to be proud of. Unfortunately, you then lost track of time, perhaps didn’t understand the importance of SAT deadlines and subsequently found yourself in a pretty daunting position. Also, cancelling the SAT may be the last option on your list, but still viable. 

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Both the SAT and the ACT tests take place several times each year, which regularly causes confusion with regard to college admissions applications deadlines. Apart from submitting applications, people also want to know if SAT scores have to be received by application deadline.

For example, students can take the SAT in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June.

With the ACT, there are seven dates throughout the year on which the tests can be taken, which fall within September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.

But what is important to remember is that these dates have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on deadlines for college admissions or the receipt of college applications - and test scores. Irrespective of whether you take your SAT in August or March, the same deadlines to complete and submit your application still apply.

To make things even more confusing, deadlines for sending applications and SAT scores (online or otherwise) vary enormously from one college to the next.

It is therefore essential that you check out the full applications and admissions policies of your target universities - never base your applications on assumptions. We also give you advice on using a top SAT prep book and what to do after you complete a SAT prep course.

Early Decision Score Report Deadlines

If you are planning on submitting an early decision application, remember that you will then be bound to the college in question if your application is successful.  This is not a decision to be taken lightly, though can help you get ahead of the pack when applying to a competitive university.

Though there are exceptions, the vast majority of colleges set their early decision application deadlines for the first couple of weeks of November. This is because decisions are made and applicants notified accordingly by the middle of December.

This therefore means that if you are submitting an early decision application, it is essential to ensure your SAT score report is received by the college by this date - no later than the last few days of October if possible.

Early Action Score Report Deadlines

This is a nonbinding alternative to an early decision, which provides you with the opportunity to apply to your chosen college or university early but with no obligation to attend if accepted. 

For the most part, deadlines for early action applications are exactly the same as those for early decision applications - the first couple of weeks of November.

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Regular Decision Score Report Deadlines

This third category encompasses all standard college applications and admission procedures. As mentioned above, application deadlines (including receipt of SAT scores) vary enormously from one college to the next.

Across much of the United States, the most common deadline for applications from students is January 1.  However, some colleges have deadlines at the end of November, anytime during December or January and in some instances as late as March, April or May. There are no standardized deadlines or ‘rules’ regarding application acceptance policies - every university has its own rules and regulations.

Irrespective of how much time there may be between now and the application deadline, it is essential to submit your application and your SAT score report as early as realistically possible.

Am I Allowed to Submit SAT Scores After the Deadline of a College?

Colleges impose these deadlines and application regulations for a reason, and they should therefore be adhered to. It takes time, effort and manpower to process college applications, which is why they need to be received by a certain date.

In addition, ensuring your application and SAT score report are received on time is a mark of respect and good manners. If you want your application to be given fair consideration, it simply makes sense to ensure it is sent and received on time.

That said, many universities are relatively lenient where SAT scores are received slightly after the official deadline. This is particularly true in times of turbulence and widespread disruption - as has been the case throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

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However, these permitted extensions and tolerated delays will never be formally advertised by a college or university. Instead, you need to contact the admissions department of the college directly to ask whether or not your SAT scores will be accepted, if received after the official deadline.

Contact the college’s admission department and ask whether your scores can be accepted after the deadline. The best practice, however, is to finish taking the ACT and SAT before an application is due.

Whether or not the delay is acceptable will usually be judged on a case by case basis, so it is always worth contacting the college to explain why your application and/or SAT school reports have been delayed.

What Happens if I Send My SAT Scores Before the College Deadline, But They Arrive After the Deadline?

This is something of a grey area for which there is no single answer. Unfortunately, delays and even lost applications in the mail cannot be ruled out of the equation entirely.  Most college admissions teams understand and acknowledge this, showing flexibility and leniency with the more genuine and unavoidable cases.

For example, if you were to send your application and SAT score at an early juncture, only for it to be lost or delayed significantly en route, the college will most likely accept it anyway. As the envelope will be postmarked, it will be clear that the lateness of the application is not your fault.

However, if you send your application at the last minute and it subsequently arrives after the deadline, you may not be given the same consideration. Even if it technically is not your fault, the fact that you waited too long and did not leave enough time is unlikely to strengthen your case.

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How to Avoid Missing SAT Score Report Deadlines

As with most things, the key to avoiding missing SAT deadlines at any time of year lies in adopting a proactive approach. Technically speaking, there is no genuine excuse for missing deadlines that are both clearly indicated and give you plenty of time to submit your application.

If in doubt, it is your responsibility to contact the college or university for clarification. Likewise, if you believe there is any risk whatsoever of your application arriving late, it is good practice to notify the college or university at the earliest possible stage.

Other than this, these are the three most important things you can do to help ensure the college receives your application in a timely manner:

1. Set Reminders

The way you go about it is entirely up to you, but setting frequent reminders really can make all the difference. Weekly reminders on your calendar, notifications on your smartphone, post-it notes all over your workspace - anything that will prevent it from slipping your mind.

In many instances, those who fail to get their applications sent on time are neither lazy nor careless.  Instead, they are hardworking and well-meaning students who simply forget to get their applications in the mail early enough.

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2. Start Early

Leaving things until the last minute really is the worst thing you can do. Whether applying as a high school student or a mature student, starting early is the way to go. This also applies to actually taking the SAT, which again is something you should not leave until the last minute.

If it typically takes around a week for an application to arrive by post, allow a minimum of 2 to 3 weeks for delays. Unless handing your application to the admissions department in person is an option, opt for the highest-quality postal or courier service you can afford that’s registered and tracked the whole way.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Last up, this is a point we have already raised but nonetheless warrants revisiting.  All the information you could ever need about sending college applications and SAT score reports is literally just a quick phone call away. Or, if preferred, you can always email your target university and get the information you need in writing, or checking their website.

In any case, finding out when they need to receive your scores for processing is not rocket science.   It's simply a case of reading the latest information from the admissions department online. If you fail to complete and submit your application on time for any reason, you really have nobody to blame for the consequences that may follow!

Remember - it's your education and your future on the line.

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In Summary:

  • SAT score reports need to be submitted as early as possible
  • Getting your scores to colleges by the published deadline is essential
  • Test scores are unimportant if they don't get to your target schools on time
  • All schools have different deadlines - always check your target schools
  • Colleges can be called anytime for clarification , but first check their website for answers
  • Your official score may still be accepted where schools receive your report slightly late
  • Book your test date early if possible to give yourself plenty of time
  • Don't take chances - direct your questions directly at the college
  • You can always contact the College Board for further assistance

Leonard Haggin

I created this site to help students like you learn from the experiences my team had learned during our extensive academic careers. I am now studying Law at Stanford, but I also make time to write articles here in order to help all you fellow students advance in your academic careers and beyond. I hope our efforts on Study Prep Lounge will arm you with the knowledge you need to overcome whatever trial or test you find in front of you.

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