The answer to this question (which, by the way, I’m asked more frequently than any other question when I’m teaching SAT prep) is no.
Instantly, I’m always asked, “Well, do I need to score in the 99th percentile to get into (Harvard, Princeton, Yale)?
The answer is still no.
Here’s some advice from someone who didn’t score a 2400, but did get into every college she applied to, and ended up going to her top choice (Georgetown University) on a partial scholarship. You matter more than your scores. Even if you get a 2400 on the SAT and have a perfect GPA, you are indistinguishable, to colleges, from a test-taking robot (which I don’t believe are included in their diversity quota).
Obviously, you want to get good marks. Some universities, including most of the top ten, require a minimum SAT and GPA. Regardless of what you’re shooting for, your grades do have an impact. If your freshman and sophomore years were a little shaky, grade-wise, you’ll want to improve in that area, not only because it will help you get into colleges, but because you ought to improve anything in your life that’s dragging you down.
In fact, a close friend of mine with ADHD was exactly that – a high school student with poor grades during his first two years. During his junior year, he joined the track team, and the discipline he learned from running carried over into his academic life. By senior year, he was getting straight A’s, and he was accepted to UCLA. He even wrote about his struggles with ADHD in his college application essays. The point being, he wasn’t afraid to hide the fact that he wasn’t always a perfect student. He wrote his college application essays about the real struggles of a real person.
Writing about yourself as you really are will make your unique personality stand out in your college essays. In addition to your struggles, your personal interests, activities, and quirks are just as relevant to your likelihood of college acceptance. I wrote my essays about my seemingly futile struggle to learn Spanish when I spent three months in Costa Rica. I was a straight A student in high school, but when I lived in Costa Rica, I discovered that many of my peers were picking up Spanish much faster than me. I was accepted to Georgetown because I showed an interest in International Relations (one of Georgetown’s fortes), and because I demonstrated maturity through realizing that some things are only obtained through struggling.
Try your best on the SAT. Not only will you score your highest, but you’ll also learn about yourself – about your strengths and limitations – along the way.
By Rita Pearson