Despite what many college admissions offices across the country might say about holistic approaches to admissions decisions, one hard truth remains: Standardized tests are still a major factor. According to the most current College Board data available, more than 1.7 million students graduating high school in the class of 2015 took the SAT exam. Despite its flaws and potential to perpetuate elitist institutions, the SAT remains the most widely used indicator of college readiness and often serves as a calibration for differing high school GPA weights and leadership activities. And while admissions directors at some of the country’s most elite universities claim the exam plays a small role in the decisions coming from their offices, there are very strong correlations between elite schools and the average SAT scores of their incoming classes.
Data gathered for the Poets&Quants ranking of the country’s best undergraduate business programs reveals more of the same. In fact, the top three schools all enrolled classes with the highest average SAT scores. The Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School had the highest average score at 1480 (out of the 1600 scale, including critical reading and math sections). Olin, which finished first in the overall ranking, was followed by the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, which notched an average of 1460. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School had the next highest average at 1457. Mendoza and Wharton finished second and third, respectively, in the overall rankings.
Of the 10 schools with the highest average SAT for its entering class of 2016, seven were also in the top 10 of Poets&Quants’ ranking. Every top 15 school in the overall rankings —with the exception of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management — had an SAT average in the top 20 of the 50 schools to be ranked. Indeed, for the vast majority, the road to an elite undergraduate business education still requires a stellar SAT score.
HIGH OR LOW SAT SCORES NOT A MAKE OR BREAK METRIC IN OVERALL RANKINGS
Based on data published two years ago, Poets&Quants was able to track six-year trends in average SAT scores for 37 of the top 50 schools. And the trends show that 30 of the 37 schools have increased the average SAT score of their incoming class since 2011. But no school increased the score more than Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business. In the past six years, the Cox School has raised its average SAT 170 points, from 1280 in 2011 to 1450 this past fall. The other schools to see triple-digit increases over the past six years were Boston University’s Questrom School of Business (from 1289 to 1408, for 119 points) and Northeastern University’s D’Amore McKim School of Business (from 1329 to 1433, for 104 points). The University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management just missed the 100 mark, elevating their average SAT by 96 points, from 1209 to 1305.
At the other end, no other school decreased its average more than the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which lowered its average by 42 points, from 1343 to 1301. Meanwhile, the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce dropped 38 points, from 1384 to 1346. The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business fell 36 points, from 1275 to 1239. No school enrolled a lower average SAT than Rutgers Business School-Newark, at 1043.
While the SAT played a role in P&Q‘s overall ranking, a few schools were able to overcome lower scores and still rank highly. Minnesota’s Carlson is the most extreme example. Carlson dropped its average SAT by 17 points, from 1297 in 2011 to 1280 this fall — good enough for 30th on the average SAT list. Yet Carlson was able to catapult to 12th in the overall ranking thanks to high alumni scores and solid employment placements. Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management also 33rd on the SAT list, at 1263, but rode a wave of positive alumni feedback and employment rates and placed 20th in the overall rankings. Meantime, schools like SMU’s Cox School and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School both placed in the top five on average SAT scores but finished outside of the top 15 in the overall rankings. For Tepper, it was a question of low alumni ratings; for Cox, it was lower alumni and employment ratings.
(See the next page for all average SAT scores.)