SAT vs. GPA

In the battle between SAT scores and GPA, many students wonder which heavyweight matters most to your college application. Though many college admissions departments say your GPA delivers the biggest punch, these same admissions officers are secretly showing scorecards that declare the SAT the winner of the match. So why the secrecy and denial surrounding the importance of the SAT?

Think about how the two sets of data are computed: your GPA is cultivated over four years and measures effort, focus, and diligence whereas your SAT score is acquired in a matter of hours and is generally believed to simply reflect your aptitude. Universities might appear “shallow” if they reveal that more weight is given to a four-hour test than a GPA produced over a four-year period. It’s a lot like someone who says that that only thing that matters about a prospective date is personality, but yet that person only dates supermodels. Sometimes we say things that are not fully true in order to avoid public censure, and college admissions departments are no different. But, we now know that test scores are the most important components of a college application thanks to former admissions officers who have come forward and revealed the secret formula used to determine an applicant’s standing.

There are several reasons that the SAT is considered a more valuable admissions tool than your GPA. The most obvious is that the SAT is a standardized test. While your GPA compares you to the rest of your school, your SAT score compares you to the rest of the country. GPAs are not standard. An ‘A’ earned in Mrs. Crawford’s English class in New York City might only equate to a ‘C’ in Mr. Pryor’s English class in San Diego. Plus, some schools are guilty of inflating the grades of its students. Because multiple high schools are competing for the same students, it is in the best interest of the school to produce a senior class with an outstanding GPA average. Parents in the district may hear that a certain high school consistently produces a senior class with an average GPA of 3.9 and they immediately sign their 8th grader up, not realizing that the average GPA of the class is a full point higher than it should be! A counselor in a competitive high school might go one step further and leave a student’s class ranking off of a transcript in order to make an inflated 4.0 look like a stellar score, when in fact it is just slightly above average among the class. You can start to see why a college admissions officer has a hard time putting a lot of faith into a GPA generated by school employees! But while these admissions officers may be afraid to trust some principals, counselors, and teachers, they can certainly trust an SAT score. It is standardized by a third party, the College Board, and it fairly compares Jane in Florida to John in Oregon. It can also provide additional, unbiased information about a student’s transcript or recommendations. Let’s say that Tina received an ‘A’ in geometry and had a glowing recommendation from her math teacher, but she only scored a 460—well below average—on the SAT math section. An admissions officer would likely infer that Tina’s grade was inflated and that her math teacher is an unreliable source. Sadly, this information will also be applied to other applicants from the school, both in the current application class and in years to come. As much as the SAT may seem like an unfair assessment to you, it is the only fair tool for admissions officers to compare students from different schools and educational backgrounds across the country.

The SAT is also respected for its indication of aptitude. Most admissions officers are intellectuals themselves, and they tend to value intellect in their applicants. For this reason they are more likely to dismiss less than desirable grades when accompanied by a high SAT score. If Clive submits a 2020 on this SAT but a GPA of 2.5, an admissions officer may explain the discrepancy by saying Clive was obviously quite bright but must not have been challenged by his high school teachers; he is likely to shine when he is properly engaged by the professors at their prestigious university. But if Cleo turns in an application with a 1430 SAT score and a 4.0 GPA, that same admissions officer is likely to be suspicious of her transcript and doubt her ability to keep up with the intellectual level of college courses.

Finally, high SAT scores are secretly coveted by colleges and universities because officials want to boost the average SAT score of the incoming class in order to appear more selective than competing schools. City University wants nothing more than to advertise that their freshman class had an average SAT score of 1820, which is 100 points higher than State College across town. A higher selectivity ranking attracts better applicants and more funding, and like all businesses, colleges are constantly competing for clients and market share.

That said, keep in mind that your GPA is not at all worthless! While the SAT might have won the match, the GPA manages to steal several rounds. It is the only numerical data that can reveal hard work, self-discipline, and consistency. Together with your transcript, your GPA can show improvement over time and intellectual growth. These qualities are quite valuable when you are being compared to another student with a similar SAT score but lesser GPA. It is still important to take rigorous classes and earn good grades to bolster your transcript and GPA.

Despite what your guidance counselor may say or an admissions officer at your prospective university may claim, your standardized test scores are the most important components of the college admissions process. If you want to be the applicant with the knockout punch—gaining you certain admission—you must be fully prepared and submit the best SAT score possible.

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