Admissions Advice

SAT & ACT Insight & Preparation

Although many universities do not require a standardized test for transfer applicants (even in non-COVID years), take it anyways. Here’s why.

SAT and ACT scores are valid for five years. If you took either test at the end of high school and immediately enlisted, you may potentially still use your score.

The most elite universities require (in non-COVID years) standardized test scores. Take the test, and unlock these possibilities.

Although standardized tests are becoming more and more controversial, the most elite, competitive universities such as Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT still require their applicants to submit at least one test score from either the SAT or ACT. Sure, there are plenty of exceptional institutions that do not require a standardized test score such as Brown, who explicitly states that “standardized testing is optional for all applicants with U.S. military service” (see here for more details), but why leave doors closed?

I (Jake) get it. You’re in your 20s at this point, and you don’t want to visit the local high school to take a test with literal children. Guess what? It’s one Saturday morning for a potential lifetime of open doors and success. Suck it up, register, and take the test. You will probably score at least decently for having been in any sort of college composition and math classes. I can tell you from personal experience that it felt a bit awkward taking the exam at age 27, but I don’t regret it in the slightest. That one Saturday morning helped me qualify for multiple Ivy League acceptances from which I would have otherwise been disqualified.

You should aim to score well, but you don’t need to crush it as much as “traditional” freshman applicants.

You are a standout applicant. You told some life-changing stories in your personal statements about your time in service, and you’ve created an equally impressive balance with your high-achieving GPA. By no means are we saying you shouldn’t prepare to crush the SAT, but understand that this test score is just the icing on top of your unique application. Freshman/standard applicants don’t have what you do. They don’t have experience leading others to the military standard, they’ve never been in charge of millions of dollars of equipment, and many of them have probably never left home⁠— but you have, and that’s what makes your application unique.

I (Jake) can personally testify that my SAT score was over 100 points below a certain university’s average, but I still gained acceptance. I did not score poorly, but in comparison to the standard applicant at such prestigious universities, I did in fact score far below the average student. We’re going to repeat ourselves a lot here: standardized test scores are not everything. The “meat & potatoes” of your application remain within your essays and GPA; your test score is just a small piece of the pie.

Prepare for the SAT with Khan Academy

Khan Academy, who hosts free online classes for every common subject, partnered with College Board, who runs the SAT, to create virtually unlimited practice problems and full-length practice tests for free. We’ll repeat: everything on Khan Academy is free, to include this test preparation.

I (Jake) used Khan Academy’s Official SAT Practice to take a ton of free practice problems for both the math and english sections of the SAT. Being that they partner with College Board directly, the formatting of the questions are identical to the formatting found on the actual test. By the time I took the actual SAT, I felt very comfortable in knowing exactly what to expect. I would not personally recommend spending the money to find a private test-prep course/tutor unless you truly feel you need it, but I would recommend using Khan Academy to everyone looking to succeed on this exam.

Columbia’s School of General Studies has their own standardized test, but you can submit the SAT or ACT instead

As a student veteran seeking admission to a prestigious university, you should be applying to Columbia’s School of General Studies (Columbia GS), where they have created an entire college for nontraditional students. (See our Veteran Friendly Universities page for more information). Not only have they created an entire community of students like you, but Columbia has also generated their own online standardized test, the GS Admissions Exam (GSAE). If you are exclusively applying to Columbia GS, you may easily justify solely taking this exam, as you will be able to take it online without having to visit the local high school on a given Saturday morning. However, if you plan to apply to multiple universities, we recommend you take the SAT or ACT, as you can use those scores for Columbia GS, but you cannot use the GSAE for schools besides Columbia.

A member within our NSI team, Brandon Lambert, has taken the GSAE, and this is his remarks and advice concerning the exam.

First, to address cost. As a veteran, you will have the ability to have many—if not all—fees waived concerning applications or other expenses associated with academics. Unfortunately, the price to take the GSAE is fifty dollars, and it is non-waivable. A small price to pay, but if your budget is tight, it is worth knowing.

So what exactly is on the GSAE? Does it parallel the SAT or ACT? Short answer: yes and no. The GSAE is composed of a reading, critical thinking, and writing section. Of course, the reading and critical thinking sections are very similar to what one will find when taking a more traditional standardized test(SAT/ACT). However, I (Brandon) would say that the GSAE passages and questions are more sophisticated and are designed for a more mature audience. To strengthen my viewpoint on the matter, I brought sample questions to multiple tutors who specifically assist students for preparation in taking the SAT/ACT, and they all voiced the same opinion. Also, see the link below to check out the sample questions I just mentioned.

Furthermore, the GSAE has a timed essay at the end of the exam. The time allotted to write your essay is one hour, and a simple prompt will be given. My opinion on the matter: if you can write a standard five-paragraph essay without significant grammatical errors, you will be fine. Just remember to stay calm, breath, and focus on the content you’re producing, not the time left on the clock.

So, where does the GSAE differ from a more traditional standardized test? Well, if math isn’t your strong suit, I have some good news for you. The GSAE does not have a mathematics section. That’s right; it only tests you over reading and writing. This characteristic of the exam is an enormous incentive for students who struggle in mathematics, and it is a key characteristic when choosing if the GSAE is right for you.


Don’t scavenge the web for information concerning the test. Many students will search the internet reading any forum that claims to give an insight on what to expect during the exam. Do not do this. The amount of misinformation a student will find is ludicrous and will most likely send your studies in the wrong direction. If you are genuinely seeking to find information on where to concentrate your studies, focus on the sample questions below, or utilize SAT/ACT practice tests. But for your own sake, stay off those forums.

Best way to prepare for the GSAE? If you’re looking for the best way to study for the GSAE, I will say this, everyone studies differently, and you will ultimately know what type of preparation works for you. However, I will mention a couple of ways that helped me. 

One thing I would suggest immediately arranging is taking the afforded GSAE sample questions to self-diagnose your strengths and weaknesses. Once identified, focus on turning your attention on improving the matters in which you struggle. Whether you’re vulnerable with essay writing, reading comprehension, or critical thinking, work to improve in that area of irresolution.

Utilize the SAT/ACT. Mentioned above, the GSAE corresponds to the SAT and ACT to a vast extent. Although, in my opinion, the GSAE is slightly more complex, practice questions administered for the SAT/ACT are still excellent ways to prepare. I recommend taking as many practice tests as rationally possible, as you will start to identify specific questions through pattern recognition.

Hire a tutor. I (Brandon) will admit, without any shame, I hired a tutor. As a veteran, you probably have been out of school for quite some time, or at least substantially limited with your academic progress. It makes complete sense to hire a tutor to get you back into the game. Whether it is weekly appointments or just a couple of sessions to get you back on the horse, hiring a tutor will allow you to ask any questions you may have and clarify your uncertainties.

So you want to know how I did on the GSAE? I’ll tell you. I have no idea! Columbia University doesn’t inform the test-taker on what score they received. The score is for internal use only and is not disclosed—no matter how many times you call.

Below is a link to bring you to Columbia University’s website page concerning the GSAE. Scroll down until you see that tab titled, “Online GS Admissions Exam,” there you will find an abutment of information, including those sample questions! I (Brandon) wish you the best!