Test Scores (SAT/ACT) and Merit Money

By College Advice

admis-fin-aid-merit“Jimmy just got $60,000 in scholarship money for a college he never visited.” So exclaimed Mrs. Steiner about her senior son from Branford, CT.

Jimmy’s grades were good.  His activities were solid but nothing outstanding.  His SAT scores, however, were distinctly higher than the mean of the college in question.  I know several other students who were admitted to the same college Early Action. They had similar grades and activities as Jimmy.  Their test scores were lower.  The single variable that led to $60,000 was Jimmy’s SAT scores.

Every college admissions cycle I hear different variations of this story. On my end, this is always great news because parents call me (one or two close to weeping with appreciation!) about the extraordinarily unexpected benefit of SAT or ACT training.  They had no idea that SAT scores could lead to so much merit aid.

As I’ve described elsewhere, when colleges are determining merit aid, there is no single variable that distinguishes admitted students more than SATs (or ACTs). Consider the factors that dominate college admissions:

1.) Grades – the most obvious measure of academic performance provides a surprisingly challenging variable when comparing student’s from different schools. For example, students from The Williams School, East Lyme High School, Daniel Hand High School and several other top notch schools in Southeastern Connecticut have grades and class ranks that reflect substantial competition.  I don’t want to single out specific high schools but you can look on a Connecticut map and pretty quickly decipher the schools where getting As and being in the top 10% is not the same as it is at highly competitive Shoreline CT high schools.

2.) Activities – I’ve described this elsewhere but comparing students who have stood out in activities is highly subjective.  Is being in the school musical better than being on the soccer team?  Is being the lead in the school musical better than being Captain of the soccer team?

3.) Test scores – this is one variable that can be fairly compared for students in Madison, Connecticut versus Madison, Wisconsin versus Madison, New Jersey.

That’s why my Christmas season – post Early Action-Early Decision – is particularly joyful.