How important are SAT/ACT scores?..
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How important are SAT/ACT scores?..

Admission Counselling :
  • Written by UnivAdmitHelp
  • Category: Admission Application
  • Published on 10 Feb 2019

Chicago University recently announced that its international students do not have any mandatory requirements to report SAT or ACT scores. Many other universities have eased out the SAT requirements over the years, and we expect that in another 3-5 years it would mostly be done away with.

As it is, SAT/ ACT scores are not a very important criterion when it comes to admissions in top universities in US. While most universities say that they do not have a ‘recommended’ range of SAT scores and many good universities have varied SAT/ACT scores among their successful student applicants, going down to even extremely low scores like 1200/1600. Plus, SAT is one among the many parameters that a university judges an applicant upon. A case in point is MIT – among the most rigorous selection process. MIT engineering applicants get selected from a range of criterion ranging from a research project, makers’ portfolio, humanities and art portfolio, academics over a 4-year time horizon, SAT/ACT scores, cocurricular and extracurricular activities including leadership positions, sports and athletic ability, etc. All of them (and some more) coalesce to create the unique story for each of the applicant which gets you in. Clearly, SAT is a very small portion of this story and as such should not be over-emphasized. Chicago University’s decision is just another validation of the point that is veering US universities away from generalized tests like SAT/ACT.

There are some definite advantages of a generalized test score like SAT/ACT for a university. Clearly, not all boards or marking philosophies are similar. IB, A levels, different boards corresponding to countries/ states – there are so many variations that it is extremely hard for someone to assess a student on a common yardstick. In such a scenario, generalized test scores provide a ready escape and give universities a common way of assessing a person’s academic capability.

However, SAT/ACT testing suffer from the same problems that any test suffers from. It captures a student’s performance on a given day – which may not capture his potential/ capacity correctly because of a number of reasons. Poor/ or exceptional test taking ability (not potential), it being a bad/good day, the test itself are amongst the many variables that leave the outcome from the test circumspect and indicative at best!

An entrance system which is holistic has anyways been assessing performance and potential across a range of parameters for a very long period of time. Giving the assessors one less variable (SAT/ACT scores) would not impact their ability to judge. A good example is the ability of the same assessors to validate the narratives and applications of ‘home-schooled’ students. In these cases, application-assessors don’t have access to much of standardized data that any normal school students have. Despite that they have been able to successfully assess and roll-out offers to many of these students. In fact, Stanford, Cornell and many of the top IVYs have rolled out record number of offers to home-schooled students. Again, this is clearly indicative of the fact that schools will judge your capability with or without SAT/ACT scores.

Many of our students have been very adventurous with their SAT scores! Some of the flat-out refused to take the SAT tests – one of them shared the link of the business that she had created (a 5 MM $ business at the time of her application), another posted the code of a successful algorithm that he had sold off to Airbnb. In each of these cases (and many more), the application was extremely powerful (notwithstanding the lack of SAT/ACT scores.) Consequently, these students received admits from some of the top universities including Stanford, Cornell, UPenn, MIT, Princeton, etc.

Apart from Engineering, if you look at Economics and Design applications, the relative value of SAT/ACT scores become increasingly clear. While it can be argued that in the case of ‘design’ applications, there is an ‘art’ portfolio that gives a sense of the student’s capability; that is not the case with Economics/ Business applications. Most students do not take subject SATs and while many still take the general SAT/ACT, it seems counter-intuitive to think that SAT/ACT scores determine entry. More so, when many of the top scorers receiving as high as 1580/1600 were denied admission.

In summary, we posit that your narrative determines your entry to a university and not your SAT/ACT scores. These scores are value additive in so much as they (may) support your story but nothing more than that. Our general advice, therefore is to focus on building your story – something which is more durable and harder than getting better SAT/ACT scores. That is what shall get you into a great university!

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