Our last blog was geared toward helping students applying to college keep an open mind about their choices and options, and ensure they have a solid support system around them. I am hopeful students actually read the piece and will take my advice to heart, because the only emails I received afterward were from parents.
Their messages centered around the response I used to give students when I first started at Tech in the early 2000s when asked, “What are your admission requirements?” READ: Please just tell me clearly and plainly what I need to do/have to get in?
My response was simple, honest, and easy, “Sure. Get a 3.7 GPA, 1300 SAT, write a few lines on your essay, do some stuff outside the classroom, and we’ll see you in the fall.”
The blog went on to explain why a 3.7 (or 3.5 or 4.0) of twenty years ago is not uniform anymore, and as a result admission reps from competitive universities are rarely able to provide a single sentence (let alone a single number) when discussing GPAs. Parents who emailed wanted to know if SAT/ACT scores are equivalent to the early 2000s (or before I assume), and how much stock to put in the averages or ranges they hear in presentations or see published online.
Whether these questions stemmed from innocent curiosity or an attempt to settle a household debate/competition, I am unsure. And while I did not intend to write a Part II it does provide a timely opportunity to identify admission requirements for parents as they coach and partner with their students.
First, here is an attempt to answer the question.
Is a 1300 (sticking with the cited example) the same as it was 20 (or 30) years ago?
As with most answers in admissions land, “It depends.”
The Same Scale. The SAT is still comprised of two sections for a total of 1600 points (though there was a brief time period when it was comprised of three 800-point sections- totaling 2400).
The Same Percentile. An SAT score of 1300 puts a student in the top 14% of test takers, which is roughly equivalent to where it was 20 years ago. However, there are far more students taking the SAT/ACT now, so the raw number of takers above and below any score is higher.
Likely Different in that most colleges “super score” tests- meaning during admission review (and ultimately when they publish scores) they are on students’ highest combined total of the two sections from any test administration. Twenty years ago, colleges were generally not publishing super-scored averages or ranges, and students did not have the option of score choice- opting out of sending particular tests to colleges. The combination of these two practices has served to inflate the scores colleges include on publications, websites, etc.
Particularly Different for anyone who took the SAT prior to 1995- the year the College Board “re-centered” the test.
Arguably Different in that on average twenty years ago students took the test fewer times and had less access to free/low-cost/or absurdly high-cost test preparation.
Optionally Different in that data suggests students scoring lower than published institutional averages/ranges are less likely to submit their test scores to colleges with test optional policies, thus increasing averages/ranges on profiles, common data sets, etc.
Recently Different in that many testing centers have been closed and testing administrations canceled. Over the last few years during the pandemic, students have taken these tests in abnormal circumstances impacted and varying drastically based on their local environment.
The truth is the testing landscape is vaster and more confusing than ever, and that’s without addressing how factors like Early Decision, financial need, residency, major, or other demographics may impact how a particular student’s SAT/ACT score is viewed in any given college’s admission review process.
What are your admission requirements?
Cleary, I cannot speak for every college. And unlike my early days at Tech, I cannot give you two numbers or a formula to guarantee admission. But after two decades of watching this cycle repeat itself, I can still make you a promise. If you are a parent or supporting adult who just loves your kid and wants to see them be successful in their college admission (and college) experience, I can tell you what you need to do and have. Here are your admission requirements.
DO stay one chapter ahead. I want to urge you to talk less to parents of other high school seniors and more to parents of college students or recent college graduates. When kids are little, we looked to parents a chapter ahead for advice, solace, and perspective. Don’t forget the value they add, particularly during the college admission experience.
Perhaps your friends and neighbors are different, but often parents of other high school seniors exaggerate, proliferate, propagate, and other ates and gates that are typically unhealthy/unhelpful. Talk to those folks about the upcoming game, play, or school event, but when conversations about where students are applying, or where they either do or do not get in, etc. try subtly changing the subject. In my experience, avoiding the speculation or hearsay and generally keeping your family’s admission process private is not only good for your personal well-being and mental health, but for your relationship with your student too.
HAVE early, open, and honest conversations about money. My sincere hope is you will commit to having transparent conversations with your student now- before they submit applications. Being open about how much you either can, or are willing to pay, is a gift because it sets expectations at an appropriate time.
Does this mean you are saying they cannot apply to X college? Absolutely not. But it helps your student clearly understand the financial aid package or scholarship level they will need to receive in order to enroll. Delaying this discussion until after a student is admitted is a disservice to everyone involved, because an offer of admission will already be emotional on some level. Parents frequently underestimate their students’ ability to handle transparent conversations about finances, lifestyle, and how paying for colleges enters the equation. If you open the books and explain why you have certain conditions or limitations on paying for college, you’ll likely be surprised and proud at how they approach their applications and ultimate college selection.
What are YOUR admission requirements?
In Part 1 for students, I encouraged them to focus on what they need and want from a university experience, rather than on what a college seems to require of them in the admission process. I adamantly believe if they will take some time to write down and really consider this question, it will help as they think through their choices and options at every stage. It will likely also help rule out places that don’t align, and it will give them good questions to ask when they visit, talk to reps, or receive admission offers and are weighing their options.
I hope you will do the same. For this exercise, forget the names of colleges, their ranking, or any stereotypes, biases, or attachments you may have. Instead, just think of your student. You know them better than anyone else- you’ve watched them grow, change, and learn along the way. What do you think is most important to helping them thrive academically and to be healthy outside of the classroom? Coming up with even a short list of these qualities or characteristics will enrich and balance your conversations, recommendations, questions, and support along the way.
As parents its easy to feel pressure to have answers and solutions for our kids. But when it comes to college admission, seeking perspective, being honest and open, reflecting, listening, and walking through the experience together is perhaps the biggest gift we can give.