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Standardized Test Scores For Ivy League Admission

Stephen Friedfeld, PhD

The SAT is a key criteria used by Ivy League admissions offices to evaluate applicants and predict college success. It measures students in categories such as analytical writing, quantitative reasoning and reading comprehension.

The test is a prominent source of anxiety among parents and students alike. Lets begin by addressing three normal channels of inquiry when it comes to standardized testing and admission to Ivy League institutions:

First, “can a positive result on the SAT outweigh perceived shortfalls in the rest of the application?”

The short answer is yes. Top tier institutions are well aware of annual rankings that highlight the average SAT scores of incoming freshmen. They are equally aware that a dip in averages can be a detriment when compared to peer institutions.

As such, the SAT is an essential tool for an admissions committee when it comes to decision making. Perhaps you son or daughter’s high school transcript took a slight step back during their sophomore year - maybe they lack meaningful extracurriculars - or struggled during an interview?

For students who are excellent test takers, take advantage! An impressive standardized test score (or scores) can quickly deflect attention away from other perceived shortfalls.

Second, “could a subpar score jeopardize an otherwise glowing application?”

The answer here depends on your definition of subpar. For most Ivy League schools, a strong high school transcript is priority number one. With that in mind, encourage your son or daughter to take a challenging course load starting freshman year. In addition, seek out other avenues for improvement on their application - a meaningful essay, unique work or leadership experience, as well as an interview can make a real difference.

If your child is interested in pursuing music, dance, athletics or art, encourage him or her to highlight this on an application. Finding these sorts of differentiators can have a real impact. Take Harvard’s class of 2017 for example, which reported an average 170 point disparity on the SAT between recruited athletes and non-athletes.

Any points of support from a specific department or coach can make up for lost ground when it comes to your child’s SAT scores.

And finally, “is there a set cut off when it comes to standardized testing among Ivy League and peer institutions?”

It is important to remember that there is not an “official” cut off when it comes to standardized testing, and each score has a different effect for each student; however, there are certain numbers you and your child can use to evaluate their candidacy:

80% - Your child’s scores will be viewed in comparison to the rest of the applicant pool; as such, falling in the 80th percentile range is critical. Falling below the 80th percentile means that only 10% of incoming students scored at this level and admission for these applicants is, of course, increasingly competitive.

700 - Ivy League admissions officers are more likely to highlight a candidate’s test scores when the number 7 starts off each of the three sections. This is not to say that a 690 will mitigate your application, but it’s important to think realistically about the quality of scores expected.

Starting in March 2016, The College Board will be unveiling the new SAT. It will be an adapted version of its predecessor and include new sections such as “Passport to Advanced Math” and an analysis of U.S. founding documents.

This new exam will seek to evaluate both the college and career readiness of your child. But every student is different - and your child’s background and skills play an important role in determining the effect each test score will have.

(Stephen has 10+ years of admissions experience at Cornell University and Princeton University. He is a founder of AcceptU, an admissions counseling group comprised entirely of former admissions officers from highly selective colleges and universities. For questions or to learn more about AcceptU, contact Stephen (stephen@acceptu.com, 617-424-0700) or visit www.acceptu.com. )

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