Thursday, March 3, 2005
The following article, "Taking the Test is Serious Business", was authored by Gerald M. Bradshaw and published in the March 3, 2005 Editorial section of Daily Southtown Newspaper, Chicago.
Did you ever wonder what schools like Harvard think about the admissions process? How important is it to them to find the right mix of students and to help ensure their success?
Harvard typically spends over $50,000 for every student that they admit to their program — for screening, interviewing and research on every individual who enters their gates. They put a high price on getting the very best people that they can find — people who will help contribute to the quality of the student body. That letter of acceptance means that they truly want you to enroll.
I use Harvard as the archetype. All highly selective post-secondary institutions are competing for the same pool of highly charged candidates.
So what is the big news about getting into college these days?
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?
A few years ago, the president of the University of California (my alma mater) decided that the old SAT tests, which they used to admit students, were a bit too biased in favor of people who have been brought up in a culture of disciplined thinking and reasoning abilities. The College Board that administers the SATs was put on notice by 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 pubic 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 new SATs. (Ditto the ACTs.)
The College Board had to come up with something that would not only measure some of the "elements" of academic performance, but would also have to measure it in a way that gave everyone 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).
On top of that, they 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 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 children are 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 to help the admissions committees sift through the candidates. An extra 100 or 200 points can make or break a student's chances for admission.
Your SATs also have a value beyond getting into the right school that you may not have considered. SAT scores are already an industry standard for applicants seeking employment with Wall Street investment banking and consulting firms.
The Wall Street Journal reports there are cutoff lines: The going minimum at Hotjobs.com for entry-level, investment banking positions is 1,350 on the SATs. Non-Wall Street firms can be even tougher.
I repeat: "One word. Are you listening? SATs."
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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