A study released this morning seeks to weigh the benefits of SAT test preparation, and concludes that gains from such courses can be small, but that small gains often matter to admissions offices.
But the study, which will hardly be the last word on SAT test-prep, struck me as newsworthy for another reason.
As part of the report, which was commissioned by the National Association of College Admission Counseling, researchers asked nearly 250 colleges whether they used SAT or ACT scores as a cut-off for admission. Of those that accept the SAT, 1 in 5 said they used particular scores on the test as a “threshold” for admission, at least in some cases; among those using the ACT, 1 in 4 described similar cut-offs.
The good news for most applicants, or at least those whose scores are not stellar, is that more than three-quarters of the colleges report using such scores “holistically.” That usually means the tests are mixed into a stew of many factors being evaluated, including the rigor of applicants’ curriculums; their grades; their activities; their teacher recommendations, and their essays. In fact, when asked to rank the criteria for assessing applicants, most colleges said they give more priority to “strength of curriculum” and “grades in college prep courses.”But what of those schools with cut-offs? The report does not identify them, or the scores they use. But their policies could put them at odds with the association’s “Principles of Good Practice,” to which most highly-selective colleges subscribe. Among the provisions in that document is a pledge by colleges that they “not use minimum test scores as the sole criterion for admission, advising or for the awarding of financial aid."