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Just how important are SAT scores to get into college?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 30th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Towards the end of their senior year, millions of American high school students prepare for their SAT scores. There is much heightened interest and nervousness, as for many of these students, a passing grade guarantees them entrance to the college of their choice. But how really important is the SAT really? The reality may surprise you .

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Is a great SAT score really your child's key to the college of her choice? Not necessarily. The real worth of SAT scores depends entirely on where your child would like to go to college. According to Rick Dalton, former director of enrollment planning at Middlebury College in Vermont says that "college selectivity is a myth. 95 percent of colleges accept most of the students who apply. It's the other 5 percent -- the Harvards and the Universities of Virginia -- where test scores really matter. These colleges get more applicants than they could possibly accept."

Even at the most selective schools, SAT scores alone still don't determine who's accepted or rejected. "Students might be surprised to hear that Princeton University turns down 76 percent of its applicants who scored between 750 and a perfect 800 on the SAT," Joyce Slayton Mitchell, the director of college advising at the Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City says.

"Students don't need a perfect score and perfect grades to get in. It takes more than that. They need to pursue other activities and interests that are unique to them," she says.

Top schools instead look at students' academic achievement first -- grades, class rank, and the types of courses they've tackled, Dalton says.

Admission officers then examine students' "non-academic profiles," which is their extra-curricular activities and acts of citizenship. Selective colleges look for excellence among athletes and artists. Multiculturalism may also be a factor. At this point, test scores come into play, says Dalton. "You can have everything else, but if you have low scores, you probably won't get in."

Is there an SAT score that is too low? "Students who score a 650 math and a 650 verbal on the SAT are capable of doing the work at any college in the country," Mitchell says. But those scores won't ensure them a spot in the freshman class.

"Kids who are shooting for the top schools have to be discerning about where they make their commitments," Dalton says.

"Forty hours spent working on a biology project or serving the community will probably increase a student's chances of getting in much more than a week's worth of SAT test-prep classes."

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