Athena Consulting
Athena Consulting

Why the SAT is becoming less important for US universities' admissions ?
- September 2018 -

In June of this year, University of Chicago, one of the top ranked, highly selective universities in the US, has announced that it will no longer require applicants for the undergraduate college to submit standardized test scores i.e. SAT or ACT. The action of the U. of Chicago may be the start of a major trend among the top colleges to deemphasize the importance of standard tests. It cited that the standard tests "place an unfair cost and burden on low-income and minority students" and they may not necessarily measure intelligence while preventing the college from creating a diversified student pool. Well-to-do applicants can pay for expensive tutoring to gain unfair advantage. According to the data from the National Center for Education Statistics, of the first-time freshmen students enrolling last fall, 25 percent recorded perfect or near perfect ACT or SAT scores in reading, writing and math. Interestingly U. of Chicago would allow for alternate methods of providing supplemental materials for admission considerations such as video introductions.

A very recent scandal from the recycling of a previous SAT test whose questions were leaked had further dented the SAT test usefulness as well as the credibility and reputation of the organization that administers it. In the latest August 25, 2018 SAT test administered only in the US, the questions have already been leaked from a previous SAT exam from October 2017 that was offered internationally. Some overseas Chinese and Korean students have questions as well as answers all prepared before they flew to take the exams in the US. College Board has issued a statement confirming the leak and vowed to take tough actions against anyone found to be cheating and would bar those students from retaking the test.

Similarly, the SAT subject tests, the other required standard test, are also losing favor among the universities. The decline started in 2009 when the University of California system decides to stop requiring SAT subject tests. Other elite colleges follow suit, especially among the Ivies such as Columbia, Dartmouth and U. of Penn. However, the SAT subject tests won't go away any time soon. Most agree that these tests can often be a great way for certain students to show their depth of knowledge and present themselves as more competitive candidates. Also for certain colleges with technical or focused majors, the tests are still required for applicants to demonstrate subject proficiency.

If standard tests like SAT or ACT will play lesser role as one of the components for evaluating a candidate for admission, then what other factors are still considered important in the admission process? Colleges will focus more instead on high school grades as the main tangible criteria for differentiating the best students in the application pool. Admissions to the most competitive colleges would not be possible if candidates do not show strong academic performance during their 4 years of high school. However, straight A's are no guarantee for admission either. Other factors include essays (common and supplemental), extracurricular activities (inside and outside of school), letters of recommendations from teachers and counselors, and to lesser extent, admissions interview (depending on the college). In the case of schools like U. of Chicago, other new information from a candidate deemed relevant could be provided in the form of video introductions or portfolio submissions.

Of all the factors mentioned, only one is fully within control of the candidate and that is the essays. Grades, activities and recommendations have been accrued over the course of 3-4 years of high school but essays are the only last opportunity that candidates will have the chance to present their own voice to the colleges during the final fall term of senior year. From the essays, college admissions want to see who are the candidates, the real persons, beyond the transcript: what qualities or talents they possess or how are they able to effectively tell their stories. Finally, how is their writing style or grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Apart from the common essay of 650 words which candidates must pick from a list of 7 topics (or prompts as they are called), they will likely be writing more essays as part of additional supplemental essays required by each college. The more competitive the schools are, the longer list of questions (from 2 to 4) and wide-ranging types of questions (from easy ones such as "why this particular college" to off-the-wall or seemingly irrelevant questions). There is no single answer applicable to all the schools, making the option of cut-and-paste impossible. Although the supplemental essays may appear less important than the main common essay, they are as critical to the application and can determine whether or not a candidate is accepted into the top schools.

As students in G12/Y13 are finally embarking on their final year of high school, the thought of college essays is never far off their mind. In the worst case, candidates might sense some panic if they have not thoroughly planned the writing since summer. Depending on the number of colleges they are applying, the total number of essays including supplemental essays could run as much as 20. The college applications along with the essays must be completed before most colleges’ submission deadline of Jan 1 or Jan 15. The number of essays might seem very daunting and overwhelming for a student who also needs to worry about school work and maintaining good grades during the first semester of Y13/G12.Therefore planning and prioritizing are essential qualities that students need to carefully manage during this critical period. To find out how we at Athena Consulting can help, please contact us at  or visit the website

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