Friday, June 6, 2008
Educated Advice Columnist
Did you ever wonder what schools like Harvard think about the admissions process? If you haven't been deeply involved, it might come as a shock. A lot of it is fairly cut and dry, at least for the vast majority of students.
Harvard typically spends more than $50,000 for every student they admit to their program for screening, interviewing and research on each person who enters its gates. The school puts a high price on getting the very best people they can find -- young people who will help contribute to the quality of the student body. That letter of acceptance means that Harvard truly wants you to enroll.
I use Harvard as the archetype. All highly-selective post-secondary institutions -- including the military academies -- are competing for the same pool of highly charged candidates. So what is the big news about getting into college?
In the movie, "The Graduate," Dustin Hoffman's character received some timely '60s career advice: "One word. Are you listening? Plastics."
This year, I have an update: "One word. Are you listening? SAT."
To be more accurate, I'm referring to the newly-revised SATs. Why all the hubbub?
I'll quote a bit of tomfoolery from The New York Times: "Today's test consists of only one question, so think carefully. The 'A' in SAT stands for: (a) aptitude; (b) achievement; (c) assessment; (d) all of the above; (e) none of the above. I haven't the slightest idea what the answer is, so I'll guess (a) aptitude. Wait a minute -- since the SATs penalize you for guessing, maybe I'll take the ACTs, which does not. Now I am confused."
Welcome to the wonderful world of the SATs.
First some history.
A few years ago, the president of the University of California (my alma mater) decided that the old SAT tests, which the school used to admit students, were a bit too biased in favor of people who have been brought up in a culture of disciplined thinking.
The College Board was put on notice by the University of California that if it didn't change the test to make it more "relevant" to today's admissions guidelines, the school was going to drop the SATs entirely.
When the largest public university in America revolts against something like the SATs, it sends tremors all across the national consciousness of academia.
Thus began the process that led to the birth of the SATs we use today.
The College Board had to come up with something that would not only measure some of the "elements" of academic performance but would also measure it so everyone had a chance to do better.
It seems that the old SATs had too many analogy questions, which favored people who think analogously about things (i.e., doctors, lawyers, scientists, carpenters and the rest of us who like to reason things out by comparing one thing to another).
They also threw in a 45-minute writing section. The old test was deemed to be insufficient in testing students' writing abilities.
Simply put, it means that now students will have to sit for three hours and 45 minutes to take the test instead of the usual three hours. And how the new writing tests will be scored is another matter -- partly by machine and partly by human interference, they tell us.
For students at schools like New Trier or Stevenson High School along the North Shore, it's probably no big deal. They have been prepped to get into Harvard and Yale since they could walk … and the culture supports that process. If there is a change to the test, they simply bring in Kaplan or The Princeton Review to teach a class on the new SATs. Ipso facto, kids adapt to the changes and score higher.
Of course, educators (even in the ritzy suburbs) hate the idea of outsiders coming in. But parents know the importance of the SATs and demand that schools deliver those services.
The last three students I interviewed for Harvard were all No. 1 in their class, along with a dozen other classmates. Clearly, if your son or daughter is going to compete effectively for entrance to an elite college, they had better start preparing now to take the SATs -- and do well.
This is probably the single most important criterion used by admissions committees. To combat the effects of grade inflation, an ever-increasing emphasis is being placed on test scores. An extra 100 or 200 points can make or break a student's chances for admission.
Your SAT scores also have a value beyond helping to get into the right school.
Many employers require students to report their scores as part of their resumes. For many elite jobs, the cutoff lines are about the same as for the elite universities. A score of 700 in math and reading is mandatory.
Contact Gerald Bradshaw, The US States Top college consultant. One-on-one college consulting. Get help with the college application essay. Make you dream of being admitted into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania a reality.
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