As I work with dozens of students on their college essays, I note that many lament their uninteresting lives. I emphasize that they are very fortunate they did not grow up in areas where overcoming crime, poverty, and bad schools were part of their struggle. They were fortunate to be born in Connecticut’s lush suburbs where such challenges are almost non-existent.
It does lead me to note that when they are looking at the mean SAT scores of colleges of interest, they probably should look at the higher end of the average. So for example, when students look at US News & World Report’s college rankings, they often examine the 25-75% of SATs. The range might read 1200-1300. When students suggest that having a 1200 puts them in range of the school, I gently note that those scores include accepted students who were ethnic diversity candidates, recruited athletes, children of VIPs, those with geographic diversity, first generation students, and those with truly unusual stories (Army veterans etc. Essentially, about one third of accepted students are simply not part of the same profile of which most Connecticut students are competing.
For that reason, Connecticut students need to score more highly on the SATs than Aleutians from Alaska, Warren Buffet’s grandchildren, and even your college drop out cousin’s kid (if his children would be first-generation)
I’m providing a factual report and not one with an opinion attached. College admissions officials, at least those from competitive colleges, are having great difficulty choosing whom to admit among the vast number of qualified candidates.
Moreover, while getting top grades is always critical for college admissions, school officials have told me that they have a difficult time deciphering whether a student with a 93 average from Lyme-old Lyme High School has performed better than a student with an A minus average from Valley Regional High School in Essex. Moreover, weighing extracurricular activities in a comparative way is highly subjective. The all state trumpet player versus the all state field hockey star versus the top community activist are all pretty similar from an objective standpoint.
Other than SAT-ACT scores, the other dominant way that candidates gain an upper hand in college admissions is through “stories” about their backgrounds. Those with compelling stories are from radically different upbringings than those from Connecticut’s lush suburbs.
Overcoming legitimate structural hardship – as in poverty, parental drug use, and growing up amidst violent crime – make for eye catching stories. Overcoming a lacrosse injury, getting cut from the school play, and dealing with an ADD diagnosis – standard Connecticut high school resilience stories – while unquestionably challenging to the students involved are not in the same league of challenge.
The SAT-ACT, like it or not, fair or not, becomes the criterion that can be evaluated most objectively. That’s why it is imperative for Connecticut high school students to maximize their test scores.