Anytime you register for the ACT you automatically receive four free score reports. This means that the ACT will send your scores to any four universities you choose, free of charge. All you have to do is request the reports anytime up to noon central time the Thursday after your test date.

That sounds like an enticing offer, especially since regular score reports cost $12 each, with rush orders running up to $16.50.

There are two major catches, however. First, you’ll have to send your scores before you know what they are. The ACT doesn’t release your results until at least two weeks after the test, or in other words until around 10 days after you must decide whether or not to send the free reports. If you choose to send the reports, then, you risk sending low scores if you end up having done poorly on the test.

ACT Four Free Score Reports

Second, the ACT will tell colleges the order in which you listed those colleges on your free score report form. Colleges use this information to help them determine how interested you are in attending their school as opposed to other schools. If a college sees that they weren’t listed first on your form, that may lower your chance of admission at that university. This information is included in any reports you request by the Thursday deadline. If you wait until after you’ve received your scores to send them, on the other hand, colleges won’t receive any record of the order in which you listed schools on your report form.

So should you send the free reports? Typically not. By sending the free reports, you’re telling multiple colleges that they’re not your first choice, which can hurt your chances of admission. While this may help you at the one school you selected first, you’re also putting yourself at a potential disadvantage at all the other schools. You also might change your mind about your first choice school by the time you submit your college applications.

Another problem with using the free reports is that you might be unnecessarily sending low scores. Many schools only require you to send your highest test scores for consideration. If you did poorly on the test, you’ll be sending low scores that you might otherwise never need to send. Why risk sending low scores to an admissions committee if you don’t have to?

So when should you use the free score reports? If one of your top choice colleges requires you to submit all your ACT scores, then list that school by itself on your free report. You’ll have to send the score to them eventually, only this way it will look like they’re one of your top choices.