How to Make Sense of the College Board’s New Adversity Score

Posted on

May 27, 2019


Greg Kaplan


In what seems like a never ending stream of extraordinary college admissions news recognizing that this process is broken, the College Board recently announced that they will be assigning an “adversity score” to each test taker.  The College Board administers the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests.  This adversity score is assigned based on the socioeconomic conditions in the applicant’s community, school, family marital status and education levels, among other factors.

We all want a fair process for ourselves and our kids when it comes to applying to college.  But this is not the answer. While I applaud efforts to make college more accessible and diverse, this is an ill-conceived effort to level the playing field that comes at the expense of hard working and honest students seeking to put their best foot forward in this process and be evaluated on the merits of their applications.  

The adversity score exposes the college admissions process for the social and financial experiment it is at many schools: constructing a class consisting of mega legacies to increase donations, athletes that generate ticket sales from games, and those determined to be “in need”. Where the rest of the applicant pool fits in, is a mystery.

The Wall Street Journal first broke this story, and can be accessed here.  The most interesting part of this story from my perspective is that 20% of Yale’s incoming class are from families where they will the first to attend college. At many highly selective schools, 1/3 of the class are mega legacies and 1/3 are recruited athletes.  So when Yale states that 20% of the incoming class is first generation, this means that over half of the “normal applicants” are being lauded for their socioeconomic status.

In a perfect world, colleges would evaluate applicants based on their accomplishments, passions, and abilities.  Not whether a family can buy a building or qualifies for financial assistance. But alas, we live in an imperfect world.   

This process rewards those who are able to excel at what matters to them.  Rather than fret on some arbitrary score, focus on what you can control.  The SAT is not required.  The ACT does not assign an adversity score to applicants at the moment.  For students that have determined that the SAT is a better fit, and for the many more who will be taking Subject Tests, please do not fill out any demographic questions that are optional if you are concerned they will negatively impact you or your child’s applications.  This includes parent education levels, income, home addresses, etc.  If you can use an office address or PO Box in another community that may be viewed more favorably in the process, consider doing it.

These external developments are frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and often unfair.  The Artis team is here to guide every family through this process and make the most of it.

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