College admissions officials, at least those from competitive colleges, are having great difficulty choosing whom to admit among the vast number of qualified candidates.
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 A- average from East 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 band member versus the all county soccer 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. The same is true for Westchester County and Northern New Jersey.
Overcoming legitimate structural hardship – as in poverty, parental drug use, and growing up amidst violent crime – make for eye catching essays.
Overcoming a lacrosse injury, getting cut from the school play, and dealing with an ADD diagnosis – standard 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 suburban high school students to maximize their test scores.