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 (GPA) is more important than a standardized test score – the SAT. Understandably, parents and teachers appreciate the consistent day-to-day effort and cooperation, and are the factors more important to a high GPA than an SAT score. Teachers can also more directly impact GPA thus giving them a carrot and a stick to motivate their students and maintain order in their classrooms. So is the GPA more important than the SAT? 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.

Disclaimer: Although the SAT is more important than GPA, this is not an advice to neglect your student responsibilities, disrespect your teachers, or devalue your GPA. Instead, consider that they also impact your admissions chances, including possible scholarship money! All things equal, a student with a higher GPA will be favored to a student with a lower GPA. Positive recommendations and developing the ability to engage with authority figures could also come in handy in opening opportunities for you in the future. Day-to-day learnings and the right mindset from the classroom experience will also be good building blocks in doing well on the SAT.

Do colleges care more about the SAT than GPA?
Colleges and universities tend to see the SAT as more important than GPA – and for valid reasons, too. Grade point average has a high level of variability from school to school. For example, a 3.6 GPA at a college preparatory academy on 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. Some teachers are easy graders, some are much tougher; some schools allow for lots of extra credit work while others don’t permit it at all. “Is this a good GPA?” is a really subjective question to answer: that depends on all kinds of factors that vary from teacher to teacher and from school to school.

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 standardized quality of the SAT is seen to allow measurement of intellectual aptitude and serves as a positive indicator of academic potential to handle the curriculum at the college level. A quick look at the ranking of the top colleges and universities would show high average SAT scores. With an abundance of applicants, schools have the luxury of selecting the students with high SAT scores, as this also helps boost their prestige. As SAT scores are easier to compare and track, this also motivates colleges to care more about SAT than GPA figures. Colleges do care how they are perceived, their reputations are also impacted by their selectivity, and one very visible measure that everyone can easily appreciate is the average SAT score of its students.

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 relative to GPA. 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. This clearly demonstrates the trend of colleges caring more about SAT than GPA. With this ultra-competitive race to the top, the SAT becomes more and more important in the college admissions process.

This trend isn’t lost on students applying for higher education. Students (and their parents) are investing more effort and intensifying preparations for the SAT. Whether through self-study, online prep courses, or private tutors, more time and money are being allocated for this, reflecting the realization of the more important impact SAT scores are having on their admissions chances. With more students preparing more effectively for the SAT, average SAT scores are going up increasingly, thus the need to prepare more for the SAT to optimize admissions chances, or scholarship considerations. 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 few 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 it fair that SAT is more important than GPA for admissions?
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. Accepting this reality and taking the steps to prepare yourself by developing the necessary skills, familiarity with key concepts, and test-taking techniques will give you better odds and boost your confidence. However, as with most performances, such as rehearsing for a live concert, how you do on the big day itself would be the most impactful.

Keys to SAT preparation
Thus, aside from practicing how to tackle the material on the SAT, it is very important to know how you can optimize your performance for test day. This includes adopting the right habits and mindset in the build-up towards the big day. These could vary across individuals but in general make sure to be in great shape and have an attacking mindset towards the exam. Being in excellent physical shape by continuing to maintain the proper levels of exercise and sleep while preparing for the exam is essential. Keeping yourself free of emotional distractions is also often undervalued. Multiple studies have also shown that having the right mindset of tackling the questions confidently and aggressively would be more helpful rather than approaching them with trepidation and fear. A good analogy would be a point guard in a basketball game attacking pressure from the defense and looking for opportunities to create a quick score for his team rather than being tentative and feeling daunted by the prospect of losing the ball. For the SAT, look for ways to solve problems quickly to save time, and use easy ways to sense-check your answers. This is better than feeling scared of not remembering formulas or being thrown a curve ball. Simply labeling your increased heart rate and restlessness as “excitement” rather than “anxiety” also helps put you in the right frame of mind.

As you prepare for the SAT, look back on the activities where you feel most confident and most engaged, it could be dancing onstage, solving tricky puzzles, or even conquering challenges in a video game. Try to replicate this mindset when you are going through your practice exams, and later on you will be able to enable this on-demand for the test day itself. Knowing all this, you should still put in the time and effort to practice for the SAT. Consider the wide range of options available from Veritas Prep and take the next step. Options include:

SAT on-demand:
A virtual toolkit with everything a student needs for self-study, including interactive lessons for progress tracking, live homework help for timely response from an expert instructor, and targeted homeworks to give students a sense of what to expect on test day.

Live SAT classes:
A more structured environment featuring live classes conducted by instructors in our innovative online classroom, this allows students access real-time opportunities to clarify questions and receive instant answers. Our live SAT classes also include full-length SAT practice exams to familiarize students with time limits and exam-day pacing strategy.

Private SAT Tutoring:
Working with a private SAT prep tutor allows students to learn at their own pace, a private tutor can customize study plans to areas of need, cater to the student’s best learning style and use time most efficiently. Many students also report that the connection they forge with their tutor makes it easier to ask for help if they get stuck.

WHY VERITAS PREP?
1) Your success is guaranteed (or your money back!).
We are so confident in the effectiveness of the Veritas Prep Live Online SAT course that we guarantee you’ll improve your official SAT score by 200 points – or receive all of your money back. With classes taught by enthusiastic, engaging, 99th-percentile instructors in a state-of-the-art classroom featuring strategic, comprehensive SAT lessons, students are bound to post massive SAT scores: we guarantee it.

Qualifying for the guarantee is simple: 1) you must submit SAT score reports from official SAT administrations with your before and after scores; the “before” score must have been taken before your Veritas Prep course began, and the “after” score must have been taken within 30 days of the end of your course; 2) you have to attend all ten sessions of your online course; 3) you have to attend at least one Live Online Office Hours session; and 4) you have to log at least three practice test scores in your student account before test day. Finally, your starting score must be 1250 or less; otherwise we guarantee you’ll score at least 1450 or your money back (with the above qualifications).

2) We don’t just get you the score, we get you into college.
Every Veritas Prep Live Online SAT Course comes with a five-session College Admissions Essentials course taught by a former admissions officer at an elite school like Princeton or Yale. In this class you’ll learn about how to choose a school list that’s right for you, how to write effective, winning application essays, how to seek out and apply for scholarships and financial aid, and the full funnel of strategies from beginning the application process to getting in to paying for the school of your dreams.
Hosted by admissions officers from Princeton, Yale, and other top colleges this course retails for $399 but is included for free for families taking the Veritas Prep SAT Course.
To learn more which of our SAT prep services can best assist your student in the college application process, reach out to Veritas Prep. You can reach academic advisors either by phone or online today.