Intangibles are the New Perfect SAT Score

The following is a guest post written by Application Authority, a college application branding company that helps students differentiate themselves from thousands of other applicants.

A perfect SAT score has been considered the Holy Grail of college admissions for years. And for good reason—the SAT and the ACT have been used for decades by schools to predict candidates’ potential for higher education success independent of other accomplishments. But if you have been losing sleep over achieving the ideal 1600 or 36-point score, we suggest you get some rest and consider changing your focus.

These tests are flawed

The ACT and the SAT are flawed. To adapt to the tests’ flaws, schools have shifted from a point-based application process to holistic review, thus diminishing the value of this traditionally highly weighted criteria. Additionally, with an increase in average college applicant GPA and grade inflation in recent years, admissions officers have shifted their attention to learning more about the applicant through essays.

[RELATED: How to Survive the College Application Process, Part One]

The secret to admission

With top schools rejecting perfect test scorers each year, what is the secret to getting admitted to an elite college or university?

Would you like the good news or the bad news first?

We like to lead with the positive, so here goes: You are the secret to admission. The bad news? There’s no easy fix. After all, you can’t attend a class, take a few practice exams, and voila, magically have a great perceived version of You.

When reviewing applications, admissions officers are thinking about a few things:

  • Who is this student?

  • What will he/she contribute to our community?

  • Will he/she be a good fit at this school?

  • What will he/she accomplish while at our school and beyond?

You might be thinking that you would rather work for that 1600 or 36 than try to decode what this means. Or you’re thinking, “Okay, I get it. I need to start my own business or something.”

Unless you are actually passionate about doing so, it probably means doing none of the above.

Schools want to know who you are as a person. Not just as a student. What makes you tick, and how do you choose to pursue your interests? It really is that simple.

[RELATED: 3 Questions to Ask Your Guidance Counselor About College] 

Share your passion

Think about your best qualities, and then think about how you can apply them to contribute in some way, shape, or form. What have you done to move the ball forward or to move the needle?

Let’s take John (a real student), for example. John is incredibly passionate about space and thinks Elon Musk is amazing. John looks at his school directory and discovers that his school doesn’t have a space club. So, he pokes around his community and discovers a small notice in his local newspaper: “Interested in star gazing? Join us.” He goes to the event and enjoys the community feel. He decides to start a space club at his school. He has no idea what he’s doing, but he’s driven and passionate, and he figures it out. From there, he builds on the idea and creates a space mentorship program with a local elementary school. Now John is happily attending a top-three school.

John’s best qualities are his drive, ability to motivate others, and ability to build relationships. He used his passion for space as a foundation for applying his best attributes to make the community a better place.

And just like that, John has shown admissions officers who he uniquely is. This is far more valuable than any perfect test score.

[RELATED: What Does It Mean to Be a “Well-Rounded” Student?] 

What can you do?

Alright, let’s get to you. What can you do to figure out who you are?

Freshman/sophomore: Write down a list of things that interest you. Research and write down current, relevant opportunities to get involved within your school and community. Brainstorm these ideas with a parent or teacher or mentor and pick a couple to try. If they don’t work out, that’s okay. Try something else. 

Junior/senior: Now is the time to take on a leadership role within your activities. This role can be formal or informal as long as you are using your best qualities to make a difference.

The only thing left—essays

It will also be important to create a stellar application that highlights your best and unique attributes. Show each school why you will be an unrivaled contributor, classmate, and community member.

While test scores and GPA will likely forever be relevant for college admissions, essays are an extremely important way to position yourself as a uniquely qualified candidate. 

After all, you are more than just a number.


The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.