How Much Weight Does the SAT Carry in an Application?

Elements of College Applications and the SAT

Colleges consider a number of factors when deciding which students to accept, including grade point average, high school courses taken, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, and scores on standardized tests such as the SAT. There is a great deal of variety in the level of importance given to the SAT in the college admissions process. Some schools regard the test as a very significant component of the application, while others de-emphasize standardized tests through test-optional policies. A few postsecondary institutions do not accept SAT scores at all.

Institutional Consideration of the SAT

A general trend can be shown in which the importance of SAT scores to college applications is correlated to the degree of selectivity of a given institution. Schools with lower acceptance rates tend to have higher regard for applicant SAT performance, while institutions that accept a larger percentage of their applicants usually place a lesser amount of emphasis on standardized test scores. Although some elite universities (such as Harvard) state that they do not have minimum SAT requirements, independent analysis has shown a strong link between elite college acceptance and upper-percentile SAT performance. Many schools are reluctant to give specific information about how they weigh SAT scores, probably due to popular criticism of standardized testing. The institutions that do disclose this data often have admissions criteria that reduce the importance of the SAT. The University of Georgia, for instance, says that it counts high school courses and grades two to three times as much as test scores.

Multiple SAT Attempts, Admissions, and SAT-Based Scholarships

There is also institutional variation in terms of how many test attempts count toward admissions standards. Some colleges evaluate only the highest of an applicant's SAT scores, but others review a prospective student's entire testing history (Yale University is an example of the latter). Furthermore, SAT standards can be applied more rigorously for scholarships than for admissions. A given SAT score may be sufficient for acceptance but not for merit-based financial aid. The best course of action for college-bound students is to secure the highest possible SAT scores on initial test attempts, and to acquire as much information about the SAT's role in the admissions process as their chosen schools are willing to give.

Typical SAT Scores at Selective Private Universities

College applicants can learn much of what they need to know about admissions standards, including those that pertain to SAT scores, by reviewing profiles of recent entering classes. Exact scores needed for acceptance are extremely difficult to calculate (if they even exist at all), but test-takers can determine how their SAT scores measure up to students at their preferred institutions with relative ease. A recent article in the Harvard Crimson surveyed an entering freshman class, and found that the average highest composite SAT score was 2237. Harvard students preferred the SAT over the ACT, and the average number of SAT attempts was 1.85. The most recent class profile at Yale College (the undergraduate liberal arts college of Yale University) showed that about 50% of accepted students scored 760 or better on one or more of the SAT's sections (Critical Reading, Writing, and Math). Students who scored below 600 on one or more of these sections made up a very small percentage of Yale College's student population (3.2% of accepted students scored below 600 on Critical Reading, 2.4% on Writing, and 1.2% on Math).

Typical SAT Scores at Selective Public Universities

Among public colleges, some of the highest average SAT scores can be found at Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, and the University of Virginia. The Georgia Tech website says that its latest class of about 5,300 freshmen averaged a composite SAT score of 2146, with a mean combined Critical Reading and Math score of 1488. At UC Berkeley, the 25th through 75th percentile SAT scores were 660-770 Math, 630-740 Critical Reading, and 650-760 Writing. The average composite SAT scores for admitted students at UC Berkeley were 2124, 2171, and 2124 for California residents, out-of-state applicants, and international students respectively. The University of Virginia reports middle 50% SAT scores of 620-720 Critical Reading, 630-740 Math, and 620-720 Writing. A great deal of specific information about schools can be acquired from the institutional publications associated with the Common Data Set Initiative, a collaborative effort between data providers and publishers that strives to give students information about higher education. UVA's Common Data Set rated standardized test scores as "important" to the admissions process (this is the second-highest category on a scale that ranges from "very important" to "not considered").