How Important are SAT Scores to Colleges?

Claremont McKenna College announced in January that an admissions official had released inaccurate SAT score statistics in an effort to boost the school’s standing in the U.S. News & World Report Rankings. A college trying to game the rankings with false data is nothing new. In recent years, misleading information has been submitted by the law schools at the University of Illinois and Villanova University, and perhaps most egregiously by Iona College.

More surprising than the fact that these fraudulent actions occurred is the magnitude of the misrepresentation. A careful look at the numbers reveals average SAT score inflation of approximately 10 points in the Math section and 17 points in the Critical Reading section. Only 27 points out of 2400! In Claremont McKenna’s mean SAT score ranges, this represents about a two question difference in the Critical Reading section and only a one question difference in the Math section. The fact that an admissions official at Claremont McKenna was willing to commit fraud and risk his career to increase the school’s SAT scores by a mere three questions on a 170-question test underscores the extraordinary value of seemingly minor score differentials.

Students are not the only ones concerned about SAT scores. Colleges recognize how important scores are for their image and rankings.

In a related story from 2008, Baylor University offered financial rewards to admitted students who retook the SAT. This morally questionable policy boosted the school’s SAT score by a mere 10 points, at a cost to the university of over $400,000 in merit scholarships and bookstore credits.

What should students take away from all this? The importance of SAT scores to colleges. While people always have and will continue to decry the SAT for a million different reasons, the undeniable truth is that the SAT, along with the ACT, is the only standardized metric that colleges can use to compare the academic performance of students from across the country. This test is nearly as important to colleges as high school GPA, which students spend three years and thousands of hours cultivating. The lengths to which colleges will go to boost their SAT scores epitomize the point that when it comes to standardized testing, every question counts.

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