The SSAT improves your application. If you choose to not submit your scores, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage compared to students who did. To combat this, applicants who are missing the SSAT should find other ways to make their application stand out. This can be particularly challenging for athletes whose application profiles lack other notable extracurriculars or community service.

Prior to COVID-19, the SSAT was mandatory for most schools. The purpose of the SSAT was to help admissions officers distinguish between applicants who would otherwise appear very similar on paper — thousands of applicants are elite athletes with grades in the 80s, a good interview, and requiring financial aid. So many applicants had nearly identical grades. So, the SSAT was used as a way for students to show their academic potential in a standardized way. Without the SSAT, profiles can look very similar, and often the priority will be based on whoever can pay more tuition fees.

If the SSAT is not your strong suit, you can choose not to hand it in, but I would caution you to enhance and distinguish your application in other ways.

Making Your Application Stand Out Without the SSAT

  • Submit the Character Skills Snapshot personality test
  • Provide unique and memorable student essays that come close to the maximum word count (don’t go over it thought)
  • Some schools have optional/additional student essays or questionnaires in their application — do all of them
  • Provide parent essays are go beyond the generic statements (most parent essays I see are very similar)
  • Choose a powerful and professional graded essay to submit to the application portal; I give tips on how to submit a great graded essay here
  • The application portals require letters of recommendation, so choose teachers that can best attest to your character
  • If given the opportunity to add an optional personal letter of recommendation from someone outside of your school, do it
  • For students coming from a non-English school, score highly on the TOEFL (100-110+) or Duolingo (130-140+)
  • Provide a strong report card — top schools are looking for averages of 88%+, but grades are subjective to each school’s curriculum, so a good rule of thumb is that you are above the average in each of your classes
    • If your report card is weak, then consider that the SSAT is a way to counter that weakness — show them your capacity in that way if you are able to test
    • Another way to partially counter a weak report card is by submitting a strong TOEFL/Duolingo score
  • Plan thoughtful interview answers that show you’ve done your research about the school + come with specific questions for each one (do not come with questions that can be answered on the website)
  • After your interview, send the person who met with you a holiday card (this a small but thoughtful thing to do — it won’t make/break your application, but it helps)
  • Knowing people in prep school helps, so mention in your application if you have family members or friends that are currently in prep school or are alumni
  • Showcase clubs you are a part of and special interests outside of your main sport
    • Top prep schools want students who are well-rounded and have a variety of interests — if you are lacking here, think of summer camp activities you got good at, interesting certifications (scuba, first aid), or part time jobs
  • Detail your leadership and community service experience
    • If you are missing community service experience, look for opportunities to do this as soon as possible so you can add them to your portfolio — community service and leadership experience are important for prep schools
  • For athletes:
    • Form relationships with coaches at the prep schools by communicating with them regularly — if you can, try to get play time on the ice/field on campus during your interview
    • At athletic showcases for prep schools, stand out as an MVP to get scouted
    • Create a highlight reel of your best games/moments, and send this video directly to coaches + follow up to ensure they’ve received it
  • For artists/musicians, send your portfolio directly to department heads/instructors + follow up with them about it
  • Asking for less or no financial aid increases your chances of being accepted
  • Share any unique struggles you have undergone that distinguish you from other students and attest to your resilience
  • If you belong to an under-represented community, share this information with admissions, since it can be an asset to your application

I help students and families decide whether submitting the SSAT is in their best interest. When it isn’t, I offer support in enhancing your application through the methods outlined above. You can schedule a call with me here.