There are a lot of ways that colleges decide who gets to walk through their doors to become a student, but one of the most important is the SAT score. These standardized tests are designed to be the barometer of academic potential, and the top institutions of higher learning demand a sizable SAT score for admission.
While of course colleges will take other factors into account in their admissions decisions, the role of the SAT score is still very important, and a poor SAT score will ruin many an application, especially in the more prestigious colleges.
It can be very difficult for colleges to make objective comparisons about extra curricular activities and other abstract qualities in prospective students. While extra curricular activities are important in the college admissions process, the SAT score gives colleges a concrete number to compare prospective students by. This means that SAT test scores are perhaps given more weight in admissions than standardized test scores would be in a more perfect world where colleges can more easily compare their prospective students.
It’s also important to remember that colleges will make their students average SAT scores public knowledge. It would be very hard for a college like Harvard or Yale to remain known as an “elite” Ivy League institution if people were made aware that they would accept students with mediocre SAT scores.
These two factors mean that many colleges are almost forced to give a lot of weight to SAT scores in their decisions, even if the admissions team personally feel (as many do) that SAT scores aren’t particularly important, or they aren’t a good indicator of academic potential.
However, a good SAT score won’t guarantee admission into any institution, even the ones that put the most emphasis on SAT scores in their admissions policy. You’ll have problems getting into the best institutions without a good GPA, even if you have a perfect SAT score.
Having a high SAT score and a low GPA can send college admissions people a terrible message. It makes you look intelligent, but lazy. The best colleges are absolutely terrified of taking on lazy students. Your academic potential isn’t just about your intelligence; it’s also about your work ethic.
You should also be aware that many colleges are looking for other qualities in their students. Showing leadership in extra curricular activities is very important, especially in Ivy League schools. An exceptionally strong display of leadership could even overcome a slightly weaker SAT score.
Of course, there are many institutions that have a firm policy of disregarding standardized testing. There are over 800 colleges that don’t even require you to provide your score in your application. This number is growing each year, and many fairly prestigious colleges are beginning to publically declare their distrust of standardized testing in this manner.
Even though SAT scores remain an important way for colleges to determine your academic potential, having a low SAT score isn’t the end of the world, and having a high one doesn’t mean you can write your own ticket. There are many other factors at play.