SAT Test Dates and School Admissions Deadlines

September 21, 2016

When setting your SAT test date, you need to think about two things. You need to make sure you’ll be able to send your SAT scores in time for test day. You should also give yourself a safe amount of time to study, so that you have the best possible shot at your target score.

Taking the SAT in Time for School Application Deadlines

Many schools have very long-term application deadlines. To give three top school examples, Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford require initial application materials nearly a year before a student might start school.

Harvard’s undergraduate application timeline requires Fall applicants to submit their initial application materials by January 1 of the year that they hope to start studying. So if you want to start your baccalaureate studies at Harvard in—say—the fall of 2018, you’ll need to submit your initial application packet by January 1, 2018. If you look at Princeton’s undergraduate application timeline and the equivalent application timeline at Stanford, you’ll see that these schools require an even earlier application. Princeton and Stanford ant to see those initial application materials by no later than November 1 in the year before you’d start your studies with them. So here, someone hoping to attend one of these two schools in Fall of 2018 would need to submit their first set of application materials by November 1, 2017.

You’ll notice that I keep mentioning initial application materials. Universities typically set an earlier deadline for the initial application packet, while setting a later deadline for SAT scores. Continuing with the example top schools above, Harvard and Princeton needs to receive SAT scores by the end of February, while Stanford wants to see those SAT scores by mid-to-late-January.

Second tier and mid-tier schools also often have long application deadlines, just like the top schools. However, there are a significant number of second-to-mid-tier schools that accept students more short-notice. Some universities accept Fall application materials as late as March, April, May, June, July, or even August. (Time Magazine has put together a good list of some well-known “apply-late” schools.) The later a school allows you to apply, the more likely it is that you’ll need to submit your SAT scores at the same time as the application.

What does all of this mean in terms of your SAT test date? Well, it takes the College Board 3-4 weeks to calculate your score and electronically deliver it to schools you’ve applied to. (To help you keep track of this, the College Board posts exact score release schedules for its next few upcoming test dates, and many universities list the last acceptable SAT test date in their application instructions.)

So you should take your SAT 3 weeks to a month before your score is due at your prospective universities… at minimum. Some schools only accept SAT scores by mail. SAT mailers take 2-4 weeks to arrive. So if you’re applying to a university that receives your SAT score report by mail, take the test at least 7 or 8 weeks before that school’s SAT score deadline.

Taking the SAT in Time to Get Your Target Score

Scheduling the SAT just 3-8 weeks before your school wants the score can put you at risk for failure and rejection. There’s no guarantee you’ll get your target score on the first try. It’s best to give yourself at least one extra month for a retake, since the SAT is only available one day a month.

It could even be a good idea to add an extra three or four months of advance time to your SAT test date. That way, you have room for multiple retakes if you need or want them. This really is a “nothing to lose” scenario. If you get your target score on the first try, that gives you months of extra time to prepare the rest of your application packet, get ready for college life, and focus on your other responsibilities.

Exactly how much advance time you give yourself depends a lot on the score you need. Higher SAT score requirements necessitate longer periods of study and more time for possible retakes. Be sure to read up on good SAT scores for different schools in relation to SAT test dates and check out this one month SAT study schedule to help you get the score you want.


David is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent.

About The Author

David Recine, Guest Blogger
David Recine, Guest Blogger

David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007.

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