Many high school students study hard, memorize vocabulary, spend hours on practice and strategy, and of course eat a good breakfast, all to prepare for the four hours or so they’ll spend taking the SAT or ACT, which might make or break the rest of their life—or at least their post-high school plans.
But does having a high SAT score really matter, in the scheme of things?
The Prospect talked to students with unusually high scores to find out how—or if—their standardized test achievements have affected their lives. The students are all either college graduates or currently enrolled in college, and all scored 2300 or higher on the SAT, or 34+ on the ACT, which places them in the top five percent or so of all test-takers, according to College Board statistics.
Most students agreed that, while their scores were important and only helped their applications and future plans, they were not the end-all and be-all.
“I think that it definitely had a role in the college admissions process for me, but I definitely don’t believe that it was everything,” Brexton Pham, a Stanford freshman, said. “I wish I didn’t stress as much as I did over standardized test scores. They seem so arbitrary and trivial now.”
Joe Gu, a UCLA sophomore agreed.
“No doubt, my score did affect my college applications, though not as much as most would think,” he said. “Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that test scores don’t matter, I suspect that even the most selective colleges stop caring overmuch about one’s SAT scores past a certain threshold.”
Several students brought up the idea of a goal range of test scores, postulating that once test scores are within the average range of a particular school, the other aspects of the application, such as the essays and extracurricular resume, are weighed more heavily by admissions officers.
“…it definitely wasn’t a determining factor,” said Annie Schugart, who attends Harvard University. “There were probably thousands of Harvard applicants who had scores higher than mine, and probably thousands who had scores equivalent to mine…they were more interested in the other aspects of our application.”
A high score, however, does increase the chances of acceptance and scholarship money and thus the available choices, students said.
“I think my test scores have helped me a lot in the college process, but it’s not because of college admissions. I could have had slightly lower test scores and gotten into most of the same schools,” said Heather Weaver, who is a freshman at Case Western Reserve University. “However, I go to a private university that would have been prohibitively expensive without grants and scholarships.”
“Almost anyone who wants money for college would benefit from studying for standardized tests and doing well on them,” Weaver said.
Another benefit is the personal confidence boost that comes from achieving the goal of a high score, and the credibility of the achievement.
“[My score] was of important psychological value to me, as well as being of value as a piece of leverage against a very unhelpful guidance counselor,” said Andrew Reisman, who graduated from Tufts University in 2013.
“I went to a small, relatively rural high school where test scores like mine were rare, and I think the guidance department began to take me more seriously once they saw my scores.” Weaver said.
In the end, it seems that most scores become irrelevant in college.
“The way I see it, SAT is clearly a high school thing. It’s time to leave it behind like your letterman jacket and move on,” Gu said.
“When I was in school, it was interesting to see as a sort of abstract measurement of intellect that nobody took too seriously. Now that I’m out and in the working world, it works as a fun bragging right and a cool fact,” Reisman said.
While a high score may equal greater access to scholarship opportunities and an advantage in the admissions process, most high-scoring students say that it doesn’t really matter after receiving college acceptances, and many of them wish that they had spent less time stressing over their scores and retaking the test.
“Had I received a significantly lower score on the ACT, then yeah, I maybe wouldn’t have gotten into Harvard. I maybe wouldn’t be going to my dream school,” Schugart said. “So in that sense, the score indirectly did impact my life. But I’m sure I would’ve been happy where I ended up. “
Pham agreed. “I cannot be any more grateful for where I am now in my life, but I would caution everyone by saying that scores aren’t everything,” he said.