SAT Test Takers: Pay Attention to US News’ Footnote No. 9

If you do poorly on the SAT or ACT, you can always apply to colleges and universities that are test optional. It’s been awhile since I wrote about this subject and you can find the link to a previous post below, but today I want to share with you a new twist to the trend.

Getting Into Great Schools With Poor SAT and ACT Scores

I’m a test-optional supporter, but I’m afraid that most students and their parents have no idea that test-optional policies can produce inflated published test scores at these schools. These inflated scores can unfairly discourage some students from applying because they assume the students at test-optional schools are significantly smarter than they are. Often that’s not true at all.

Inflated SAT and ACT Scores

So how do a school’s published SAT and ACT scores get inflated? Here’s how:

When a school becomes test optional, think about who no longer submits scores. Obviously it’s the students who didn’t fare as well on the tests. If they can avoid sharing scores that could hurt their chances of admission, they will sit on their results.

Since schools never see the mediocre scores of some of their applicants, the  institutions’ published SAT and ACT scores for their latest freshmen class increase. When this happens, the students at test-optional schools can look a lot smarter, even if they aren’t. Colleges certainly benefit from appearing to attract brighter students, but this is misleading to potential applicants. The more applicants who don’t submit test scores, the more skewed the published test results can be.

What would be nice to know is how many students at a school hide their standardized test scores. At a recent college conference in New Orleans, Tony Bankston, the dean of admissions at Illinois Wesleyan University, an excellent liberal arts college, told me about a way to get at that question. I had interviewed Bankston for a story that I wrote for The New York Times a couple of years ago on test-optional schools, you can see it here:

The Other Side of Test Optional

US News’ Footnote No. 9

Bankston told me that US News & World Report‘s 2012 Edition Best Colleges publication can help families determine if a significant numbers of teens are withholding their scores at test-optional schools.  Just take a look at footnote No. 9 next to a school’s scores in the popular publication.

Here is what footnote No. 9 says:

SAT and/or ACT may not be required by school for some or all applicants, and in some cases, data may not have been submitted in form requested by U.S. News. SAT and/or ACT information displayed is for fewer than 67 percent of enrolled freshmen.

The footnote will help you pinpoint the schools where at least a third of the freshmen class did not turn in test scores, which is a huge percentage.

To illustrate this, I’m using the highest ranked liberal arts colleges where footnote NO. 9 is displayed in US News’ national liberal arts categories.  The schools, Bates College and Colby College, which are tied at No. 21 in US News’ rankings, have this range of test scores:

                                                  SAT 25th-75th percentile

  • Bates College          1240-1410
  • Colby College          1260-1425

I wonder what these scores would be if all the freshmen’s scores at these two prestigious schools were rolled into the average. When looking at US News’ publication, I saw a lot of test-optional schools that were tagged with footnote No. 9.

 Let’s Be Honest

I think it’s a shame that schools don’t ask their incoming freshmen for their unsubmitted scores.  When I did the SAT-optional story for The New York Times, the only institutions that I was aware of that did retrieve these scores from their freshmen and thus publish accurate test scores were Muhlenberg College, Providence College (RI) and Wake Forest University (NC). Good for them.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News & World Report.

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