How the most selective colleges use test scores

SAT and ACT scores never get you into the most selective colleges.  They just keep you out.

If you want to go to a college that rejects almost all of their applicants, you’re never going to impress them with high test scores alone.  Colleges like Yale and Stanford and Duke and Columbia reject students with perfect test scores all the time.  Their applicant pools are just too full of students with outstanding high school careers that are complemented with high test scores.  So the great test taker who is sure that with just another round of tutoring, he can raise his 2250 SAT to a 2300, who sacrifices time that could have been spent winning a physics competition or writing a play or taking computer programming classes doesn’t get himself any closer to being admitted.

And what about the average test-taker?  He may look at the mean SAT scores of applicants admitted to Harvard and decide that the best way to spend his time is to try to raise his 1550 SAT to over 2,000.  But what are the chances that he’s actually going to get there?  And even if he does, he’s given up so much time and energy and opportunity in the name of good test scores that he hasn’t gotten himself any closer to getting in to Harvard.  And he’s probably hurt his chances of admission to the schools that would have welcomed him with his 1550.

Test prep has its place.  But scores are never the most important part of any college’s decision.  And at the most selective colleges, scores act more as disqualifiers than they do a reason to admit.  Whether or not you’re a good test-taker, the best strategy is to do some focused prep, try your best, then move on to other things you love and apply to colleges who will be just fine with whatever test score you show them.