Many have a love-hate relationship with standardized tests. Others have a hate-hate relationship with them. Either way, they remain a continued measuring stick for college admissions offices inundated with applications. Many schools continue to require the pesky tests for admission. Some use it heavily when weighing one applicant against another. And the vast majority use them for merit-based scholarship selection. So as part of our Best Undergraduate Business Schools Ranking, we ask schools to provide average scores for their most recent incoming classes. And for the past few years that we’ve been tracking it, the scores continue to sky-rocket.
This year, for the first time ever, one school produced an average score of more than 1,500 on the 1,600-point scale. Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School enrolled a class with an average SAT score of 1,507 — higher than any other in our ranking of 82 business schools and up 27 points from the 1480 they reported for the Class of 2016. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School had the second highest average with a 1499 — up 42 points from last year’s average. The next three highest schools were Southern Methodist University’s Cox School (1480), New York University’s Stern School (1468), and Northeastern University’s D’Amore McKim School (1465).
Of the 82 schools ranked this year by Poets&Quants, 20 reported average SAT scores of 1400 or higher. According to the College Board, a score of 1400 is in the 97th percentile of the nationwide average for 2017. To finish in the 90th percentile, according to the same data, applicants must score at least a 1290. More than half (47) of the 82 schools reported at least a 1290. The lowest reported score of ranked schools was Northern Illinois University’s 1100, which is in the 67th percentile nationwide.
NEW SCORING SCALE IS TWO YEARS OLD
It’s been almost two years since the SAT went from being a 2,400-point score to a 1,600-point score amid other changes. One SAT-prep expert has already drastically changed the approach for preparing high school students for the test.
“I help high school students and their parents to be savvy about the whole college process,” Robert Franek, editor-in-chief at The Princeton Review, says about his approach. “We help students to navigate the system and sometimes, we have to remind them that even when a school doesn’t require an SAT score, there may be other reasons a students needs to submit the numbers.”
Franek has been teaching courses for The Princeton Review for over two decades. He says that The Princeton Review has over 4,000 teachers that have adjusted their curriculum according to the changes made to the SAT in order to better prepare their clients.
SO LONG, USELESS VOCAB … AND SO LONG, SAT?
Other than a reduction in the point-score, the big change starting in 2016 was students taking the SAT were no longer penalized for wrong answers. This means students no longer have to weigh between the likelihood of an accurate guess and not earning a point without an answer. Questions in the exam also no longer contain obscure vocabulary such as “quixotic” and “toady.” Instead, they have been replaced with more common and useful vocabulary. The multiple choice questions went from five answer options to four. And in many ways, Franek says these changes have merely made the SAT more similar to the ACT and therefore, a better exam competitor. One reason for the changes, he says, is the growing popularity of the ACT and the dwindling one of the SAT.
“The SAT has been losing market share steadily over the last 15 years and students and parents often ask if the SAT and ACT are interchangeable, and I say yes,” Franek explains. “Both are high-stake exams that are acceptable throughout the country.”
Franek added that he frequently emphasizes the SAT remains important as a second step through the doors of most colleges after they have assessed the student’s high-school GPA and the rigor of their high-school courses.
CONNECTING WITH UNIVERSITIES BEFORE APPLYING KEY TO GETTING NOTICED BY ADMISSIONS STAFF
At Christopher Newport University, the average SAT score in the fall 2017 incoming class was 1230. With over 8,000 students vying for just 1,200 spaces in the freshman class, Robert Lange, dean of admissions, says a good SAT score helps.
“Students with a GPA of 3.5 and above and a rigorous high-school curriculum can choose not to submit their SAT scores, but 75% of students still chose to submit them,” Lange, who works with a team of 15 full-time staff, says. He adds that there have been instances where a straight-A student with an Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum is admitted without any standardized test scores. However, SAT scores are still needed for anyone applying for merit scholarships.
Other factors that influence admittance include engagement with the community, school counselor recommendations, character references, and finally, how much they’ve engaged with Christopher Newport University prior to applying.
Lange says his team tracks all the interactions high-school students have with their university, from open house recruitment days and off campus events to high-school visits and how early a student applies to join. He estimates that the school received about 500 early decision applications who fill up about a quarter of the incoming class.
“Overall, SAT scores give us a place to start, though we consider many other factors as well,” Lange says. “While there is no minimum score, 1080 is quite the minimum to be a special talent consideration where you’re an athlete or in the performing arts.”
To help special talent students keep up with their classmates, Lange says they are required to participate in a virtual bridge program in the summer and take a college transition course as they enter in the fall. They are also supported and monitored academically throughout their years to help them become more all-rounded.
A FEW MORE SCHOOLS GOING TEST-OPTIONAL
Some colleges, like Ithaca College and Wake Forest, are completely test-optional, making GPA and high-school schedules and curriculums more important than ever.
“Students can send in their standardized testing scores with their applications with they want, but we’ve realized that they are biased and not predictive of a student’s success,” says Lisa Searle, associate director of the Office of Admission at Ithaca. “We prefer to look at a student’s high-school schedule, their extracurricular involvements and what the adults in their lives have to say about them to decide if they’ll be a good fit for our school.”
Ithaca College became test-optional starting with the fall Class of 2013 after intensive research into students during their junior year. The school found that there was no correlation between the students SAT scores and their six semester GPAs and wanted to diversify their student body by encouraging a broader applicant pool. The school receives about 1,600 applications each year and in 2017, the average SAT score for students in the fall incoming class was 1204, with 26% of students coming from underrepresented minority groups and 14% being first-generation college students.
MAGOOSH — TEST PREP FOR THE PEOPLE?
Students seeking test-prep services have a wide-range of costs to choose from. For The Princeton Review that has been working with students for decades, SAT prep starts at $299 for a self-paced course that includes test-prep materials and three hours of online tutoring. The next level prep bundle is a steep price increase to $1,099 for a “traditional, comprehensive classroom course with personalized online tools,” where students can seek help from tutors both online and in person.
Magoosh, an online test prep company that’s slightly newer to the game, was established in 2009. Chris Lele, SAT/ACT curriculum manager with Magoosh says that the team aims to offer exam prep to more students, hence the more affordable prices. One month of access to video lessons, practice questions, and email tutoring with Magoosh costs just $79. The price increases just $10 and $20 for the three-month and and six-month courses, respectively.
“Other test prep companies charge thousands of dollars and that makes it an advantage that’s reserved for people with resources,” Lele says. “We think a lot of doors close by not taking the SAT, so we’re trying to give more students access to the tool.”
Similarly, Searle believes standardized tests — and the costs that come with prepping for them — can hurt certain groups of people more so than others.
“I know many schools where the SAT indeed is the easiest way to set aside students, but we’ve found at Ithaca that the method automatically disadvantages certain groups of students,” Searle says. “We’ve chosen a more holistic approach to evaluating our student’s candidacy, and encourage them to disclose any information that may have impacted their performance in high school.”
Other test-optional colleges ranked by Poets&Quants include George Washington University, Sacred Heart University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
LOOKING AT THE FULL ADMISSIONS PICTURE
According to the 2017 SAT Suite Annual Report by College Board, 1.7 million high-school students took the SAT in 2017. Of the group, 9% of test-takers identified as Asian, 13% identified as Black/African-American, and 24% as Hispanic/Latino. Some 44% or 760,362, of students who took the exam said they were White.
On top of the personal information students provide, Searle says that she is careful even when looking at the courses a student has taken in high school as a consideration for admissions. Searle and her team have recognized over the years of doing admissions work that it is unfair to judge a student for not having taken a particularly rigorous curriculum if their school, community or neighborhood doesn’t offer it. The bottom line, she says, is to take the most “appropriately rigorous curriculum” they can handle and their school offers.
“Not all schools offer honors and advanced placement classes,” Searle acknowledges. “If you’re on the accelerated track, take accelerated courses to show us you’re challenging yourself. But no two high schools are the same and no two student records are the same.”
SAT IS GOING, BUT DON’T EXPECT IT TO BE TOTALLY GONE
While the number of test-optional colleges have grown to about 900 in the U.S., Franek is quick to remind students that there are about 3,500 colleges in the U.S., many of whom still require applying students to submit an SAT score. And there are many more reasons a student may have to do so.
“Our job is to prepare students for college, and that includes financial aid,” says Franek. “The SAT score is still required for scholarship dollars and that’s part of the conversation.”
Franek agrees the SAT remains an important part of the application, despite its potential limitations.
“The SAT is important, there’s no denying that,” Franek says. “What we aim to do is guide the students so they know there won’t be a single question in the exam that they haven’t faced before if they prepare well for it.”
(SEE THE FOLLOWING PAGE FOR AVERAGE SAT SCORES AT MORE THAN 90 TOP BUSINESS SCHOOLS.)