College Admissions: Is Your GPA or SAT Score More Important?

Most high school students, counselors, and parents believe that a high school grade point average is more important than an standardized test score. But for most high school students, this is definitely not the case. If you are looking to attend a competitive university, then your SAT score is more important than your GPA.

Grade point average has a high level of variability from school to school. For example, a 3.6 GPA at a college preparatory academy in Long Island may be worth much more than a 4.0 GPA at a rural high school in Idaho. There is also the issue of “weighted” GPAs. School administrators may choose to “weight” honors and AP classes on any arbitrary scale they see fit. So a 4.4 weighted GPA may not be as impressive as it seems. In addition, the difficulty of courses can vary greatly. I remember “AP Biology” was a joke at my high school, but is a very difficult class at many high schools.

With so much variability from GPA to GPA, college admissions officers can’t fully discern the value of a high school student’s grade point average. Therefore, they need other measures to assess the academic ability of an applicant. And those measures should be standardized.

The SAT now serves as the major standardized measure for high school students applying to competitive universities. Fifty years ago, SAT scores were of little importance in a college application. But in this new era of competitive higher education, SAT scores are more important than ever. For example, in 2003, the acceptance rate to Dartmouth was 17.7% whereas in 2012, the acceptance rate to Dartmouth was 9.4%. To put that in perspective, in 2004, the acceptance rate to Harvard was 9.8%. Essentially, to get into Dartmouth in 2012 was just as difficult as it was to get into Harvard in 2004. Ivy league institutions like Dartmouth have cut their acceptance rates almost in half (Harvard’s acceptance rate is now 5.9%) in the past decade. With this ultra-competitive race to the top, the SAT becomes more and more important in the college admissions process.

While acceptance rates plummet year after year, average SAT scores of admitted applicants continue to climb. For example, the median SAT score for a student admitted to Yale in 2006 was 2180 whereas in 2012 it is 2250. Although this may not sound that significant, missing as little as 7 questions on the entire SAT examination could drop a student’s score down to a 2250. These statistics are not only frightening, but also could mean that if you’re not near perfection on the SAT, you can kiss your Ivy league dreams goodbye!

Is the system fair? No. You spend over 4,000 hours in a high school classroom working on your GPA. You spend 4 hours taking the SAT. And ultimately for students looking to attend competitive universities, your SAT score is valued more than your GPA. Unfortunately, that is the grim reality of the educational system that high school students face today. But instead of quitting, learn how to play the game: prep for the SAT.

By Scott Shrum

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