Updated: April 23, 2013 1:43PM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw: My guidance counselor told me that SAT and ACT scores are not as important as they once were in the college admissions process. She said some colleges do not require test scores, or that they are optional. My older brother is a junior at Notre Dame and he says that test scores are extremely important in admissions decisions. Please advise.
Dear Student: I receive a lot of emails asking the same question. The bottom line is that when colleges choose to lower or drop admissions requirements, they are trying to attract more students.
Listen to your brother. Your email stated that he scored 2250/2400 on the SAT. For students expecting to apply to top colleges, it is a huge disservice to tell them not to worry about test results. By an increasing margin, test scores do make the difference between an acceptance and a rejection by the admissions committee.
The number of students applying to top colleges is soaring, with many students applying to as many as 15 schools. Harvard had more than 35,500 applicants last year and last fall UCLA had 81,235 applicants! That number is not a typo.
It may seem cold, but given budget limits, schools use test scores to make a fast, easy cut of the applicant pool. And, with starting salaries in Silicon Valley and Wall Street hovering near six figures for new graduates, colleges are keen to deliver a top product.
Can you imagine a student telling Goldman Sachs or Apple that he or she went to a college that did not require admission tests? Given our reliance on quantitative measurement, you have to ask why any top company would consider recruiting at a test-optional college. Something more to think about before considering a test-optional school.
Most colleges publish a range of SAT scores achieved by the previous year’s class. They label it from the 25th percential to the 75th percentile. Many applicants assume if they score within this range they have a fair chance of being admitted. In reality, the lower percentile admissions are reserved for special-interest students such as sons and daughters of alumni, big donors, athletes and students from under-represented groups.
For example, UCLA reports that the SAT scores for students admitted last year in the 25th percentile to 75th percentile ranged as follows: critical reading as 560-690; math, 610-740; and writing, 590-710.
If you are not a special-interest student, you will have to have scored at the upper end of the testing range to have a realistic chance of being admitted. Let’s face it, if you haven’t scored 2,100 or above, you’re out — unless you have some outstanding extracurricular accomplishments.
In my experience, an applicant with a score of 800 in math will get more scholarship money than a student with straight As.
As you can see, it is not a level playing field. But make no doubt about it — high test scores are the best way to improve your chances of admission to a top college.