Monday, December 6, 2010
High SAT score often not enough
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr. Bradshaw:When I visited Princeton University a few months ago, I was told out of all the applicants who scored a perfect 2400 on their SATs, nearly half of them were rejected.
Was this because their personal statements were poor or because they had not participated in many extracurricular activities or sports? Or could there have been so many other students better qualified with SAT scores only slightly lower?
My question is, who gets accepted? -- Student
Dear Student: First, very few students score 2400 on the SAT. Out of roughly 300,000 students who took the new SAT in March, 107 scored 2400.
There also is the SAT subject test to consider. Most top colleges recommend three, besides the regular SAT. So, we are looking at a total of six tests to be evaluated.
That is a lot of testing and it's one reason I recommend students start taking these tests as freshmen or sophomores in high school. It establishes an early benchmark and a guidebook for improvement.
Beyond SAT scores, admissions committees look for the number of Advanced Placement classes students take and how highly they score on those tests. A score of 5 is needed at most highly selective colleges to test out of a subject.
Caveat: Yale and other Ivy League schools have established new policies requiring students to take a foreign language, even if they tested out on the AP exam. Proficiency in a foreign language makes sense in an increasingly interlocked world.
I have discussed in previous columns some of the obvious blunders that even top students make when applying to college. Some list wacky right-wing books on their favorite reading lists (90 percent of college professors vote for one party -- guess which one?), poorly written personal statements (unbelievably boring to read) and errors ranging from bad grammar to nonexistent proofreading.
Some students even use the wrong name for the school to which they are applying -- referring to Princeton in the application they send to Harvard!
Extracurriculars also are important, and the most vital are academic. Activities that receive the highest notice are those in which students compete against other scholars in academic events locally, statewide and nationally.
Having a leadership position in these activities is very significant.
For the scholar-athlete, more weight is given to academic over nonacademic extracurriculars, even if the candidate is a truly outstanding Division I athlete.
The New York Times recently reported the experiences of Haverford College lacrosse coach Mike Murphy. Despite the fact many top high school athletes want to play for him, he encourages many to focus on other colleges if they do not measure up academically.
A high school grade-point average of 3.1, on a four-point scale, and an SAT score of 1,120 would make the candidate a long shot for admission to Haverford, he said.
Typical is a student I use as a math tutor who plays varsity baseball at a top Ivy League school. Like all tutors I hire, he scored 800 on his math SAT. Be sure to ask for an official copy of his or her scores before paying a tutor. That will tell you how qualified he or she is to teach a subject.
Who gets in? At top colleges it is a combination of all the above, plus a strong dose of leadership.
Admissions people at elite schools are looking for students who made the most of the opportunities around them and feel they are the best predictors of future success.