Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Optional SAT - it's a Good Thing

But not for you.

It's been going around the seniors recently - "Hey! Colleges don't require SATs anymore! That's so cool." I saw mention of it at RightWingNews and, of course at some months ago.

Anyone who thinks this was done for the students benefit is sadly mistaken. Regardless of the problems with the SAT and its scoring and interpretation, it is still a good single measurement of a student's math, reading, writing and thinking skills. It is taken by a self-selected group to be sure, but it's a group that changes very little from year to year in terms of it's characteristics.

Until recently.

Dropping the SAT requirement has liberated college admissions officers from many of their standards. They now do not have to jump through hoops to accept students who would not have cleared the SAT hurdle, allowing them freedom to use moving criteria to select for diversity and heterogeneity. This is not necessarily all bad, until you examine the effect that this change has on the students who are admitted.

Assuming you do not change the college, who expects that students will be as successful if their qualifications are not as high? They will be accepted but won't be as able to compete. Those with sense will change majors quickly and slide down the difficulty scale that all college students are familiar with (STEM -> CJ, Eng, His -> PE -> Ed, depending on the college). Those without sense will simply fail out, possibly learning a damned expensive lesson in the process but most importantly giving the college one more year of tuition and that smidge of diversity they were looking for. Regardless, the student did not receive the education paid for nor the experience expected.

That's not the only benefit to the college, though. Announcing that you do not require SATs is an open admission that the college is gaming the Ranking system. After all, what weak student will bother with the SATs? Few, leaving the college with only those scores from the more able students. What is one of the keys to the rankings? yup, average SAT scores.

Anyone who thinks I'm kidding - remember the College in Texas that bribed it's freshmen to re-take the SATs. The students had one more year's education under their belts, several hundred dollars incentive and were re-taking a test on their own terms without the college admission stress. To no one's surprise they all did considerably better. Why would the college spend its money this way? Because then they could claim their freshmen had higher average SATs scores. The ROI was much more than the $30K they spent.

High Schools enjoy this benefit as well, since their weaker students can get steered around the SAT towards those colleges who don't require it, allowing the school's SAT averages to rise as well; in this NCLB climate, any improvement is grabbed at desperately.

Yes, Virginia, everyone benefits from filtering the SAT takers. Everyone but you.

Of course, everyone tries to cover their tracks by claiming SATs are not the best predictor of success in college, because "wealthy whites can afford test prep" and other reasonable-sounding blather. Honest college people will grant you that it's not the best predictor, but it's not counter-indicative either. Family income is first, pertinent HS grades (italicized correction based on this post) and SATs come in close together at 2nd and 3rd respectively. Most of the rest of the admissions packet is busy-work.

HS recommendations from teachers are ignored, with one caveat. If the recommendation comes from someone they know, from a graduate of the institution, or from a teacher who has recommended successful students in the past, then it is pushed to the front.

Boilerplate recs from teachers, employers, acquaintances and the directors of community service hours fight for last place with the essay in terms of usefulness. No one believes the student wrote the essay alone anymore and you can sue over a bad recommendation so no one writes anything but lovely dreck.

Most of the steps in the application are "cut-outs" -- part of the checklist attached to the cover of the folder -- get the check mark or the folder is placed in that OTHER pile, near the trash can. There are plenty more where that came from; if a student can't be bothered to read the forms and get the standard letters written, then he definitely won't be a good college student. They'll cash the check, though.

If the SATs would have been the cut-out for you, then the college probably wouldn't have been a good choice. If eliminating it means you might be accepted, then think long and hard about it.

You would attend the wrong school and fail instead of working a little harder to find the right one with the right program that you would enjoy more, work harder for, achieve more in, and be more likely to graduate from with a degree you really wanted.

"You can get a great education at a 'lousy' school or you can get a lousy education at a 'good' school." - Curmudgeon's Law

There's a reason why colleges don't require the SATs anymore. There's a reason that so many kids take bogus majors that require nothing more than sitting in a seminar circle discussing their feelings. There's a reason that so many Ethnic Studies majors, communication majors and Exercise majors exist. There's a reason that basketball players take Geography or Sports Management. There's a reason that so many kids drink themselves into oblivion each weekend. They weren't ready for college and shouldn't have gone.

Take the wrong attitude to the wrong college and no one can help you.

There's a reason why ex-military come to college on the GI-Bill and blow away the competition. They are ready, purposeful and mature. They know what they want to do and they know where they want to go without the false sense of "that college isn't GOOD enough." They have incentives to succeed and a true self-esteem developed through adversity and honor, not from sycophantic morons offering dubious praise.

Take the right attitude to the right college and no one can stop you.

But it's your money.

updated: changed HS GPA to "pertinent" HS GPA


  1. I taught applied math in a business school. We did an internal study (it took us years to get permission from the university to collect the data), and with a sample space of over 7,000, found that the correlation coefficient between high school GPA and performance in our class was 0.03, while there was a 0.71 r between the SAT math score and performance.

    Great blog, by the way.

  2. Thanks for the numbers - I've expanded on this here

  3. It is as I suspected. Mheh.