Each year, many high school seniors spend countless hours laboring over college applications, waiting eagerly to hear if they got in to their top school. Colleges presumably want to accept the best and most suitable candidates, yet they often disregard information that is arguably crucial to understanding these students. For most colleges, standardized test scores — such as the SAT and ACT — and grades are the basis of the application, representing the range of numbers an acceptable applicant should fit within. But why should individuals be characterized solely by a number? Colleges should look at qualitative factors in the application process in addition to test scores and grades because it is difficult to gain a full and equal understanding of each student through numbers alone.
Looking beyond numbers on an application may help the college better understand the applicant, as qualitative factors add more to the overall picture of the individual. Future success in college has been heavily determined by one’s academic ability, such as what percentile their SAT score falls into, or how close their grade-point average, or GPA, is to a 4.0. Some research, however, suggests noncognitive factors such as, “self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence” (Tough) can be valuable for future success in both school and life. One such study conducted by James Heckman, an economist who spent years talking to psychologists about childhood and success, looked at the differences between high school graduates and those who earned their high school diploma through the General Education Development program.
These two groups were similar cognitively, but differed in their future paths and outcomes. Heckman attributes these differences to the noncognitive skills students learn by going through high school, such as “an inclination to persist at a boring and often unrewarding task; the ability to delay gratification; the tendency to follow through on a plan” (Tough). The results of this study could indicate that certain non-academic based characteristics may be better at determining the future success of an individual, giving weight to the notion that colleges may want to look for these personality traits in applicants. Google is one example of a company emphasizing noncognitive factors, as it is “no longer taking into account job candidates’ test scores and grades, because they found no relationship between those measures and performance on the job” (Busteed 1). These lessons are shown to be important in other aspects of one’s life, extending beyond the classroom. If colleges place an importance on these characteristics, students may do the same, which can help them in future endeavors.Along those same lines, standardized tests stress uniformity, which may inhibit individual success from being fully realized.
Furthermore, if students are being taught with the purpose of optimizing test scores, they will have little knowledge beyond the questions on a standardized test (Busteed). If colleges continue to put a large emphasis on test scores, students may believe that knowing the information on those tests is more important than learning more practical knowledge that the test doesn’t measure. Because of this, colleges may want to place an importance on other factors outside of standardized tests so they can help foster a knowledge that extends beyond baseline information. Another potential negative aspect of focusing merely on quantitative data is that minority students are at a disadvantage in standardized tests, especially the SAT. According to James Crouse, a University of Delaware professor in educational studies and sociology, and Dale Trusheim, a University of Delaware assistant director of research, test scores seem to have a strong relationship with socioeconomic factors such as family educational history, income, and race (102). Although their research is from the late 1980s, many of their arguments are still applicable and being debated today.
Low-income students, for example, are at a disservice when it comes to standardized tests because they often do not have the means to spend extra money on resources for studying. Many educators stress the importance of studying for tests such as the SAT and ACT, neglecting the student who does not have the access to study materials, such as practice books or classes. Because of this, students who have the ability to pay for these resources are at an advantage, which may contribute to a higher score.
Colleges basing a large portion of their admissions decisions on test scores may be unintentionally inhibiting lower-income students from getting in. Furthermore, students who are not as familiar with the English language might be at a disadvantage due to the wording and type of questions being asked. One example of this can be seen in a study conducted by Jo Boaler that looked at a low-income and racially diverse school in California that was regarded as “underperforming” based on results from standardized test scores. Boaler, a Stanford University mathematics associate professor, found that students at this school scored higher on the test that asked more straightforward math-based questions, but significantly lower on the test that looked more like the SAT. These differences were attributed to the wording used in the standardized test, as the questions were “set in a context with which only some students will be familiar” (Boaler 504).
Even in the math section, the questions used “long sentences and words unknown to many students new to the country” (Boaler 504). Because of this, low-income students or those who aren’t native-English speakers may be limited by standardized tests, causing colleges to possibly miss out on more diversity when they are mainly looking at numbers.With all of this being said, there is also research that suggests test scores and grades are the best predictors of college success, making it unnecessary to look at other factors in a college application.
One study found a strong positive correlation between ACT composite score, high school GPA, and college grades first-semester freshman year. According to the researcher, this makes “an excellent argument for using both composite high school college core course GPA and ACT composite score in the admissions requirements” (Abell 111). However, the ability of a college student to receive good grades first-semester of their freshman year may not properly indicate their level of success for the rest of college. Furthermore, Bates College former dean of admissions William Hiss studied optional versus non-optional standardized test submissions on college applications. From the results, Hiss claimed, “that there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test ‘submitters’ and ‘nonsubmitters'” (Westervelt).
This may suggest that using standardized test scores in the admissions process offers very little in predicting college outcomes. Due to these almost contrasting conclusions, it seems questionable to definitively state standardized tests are important in predicting college success. Standardized test scores and high school GPAs offer little room for colleges to fully and equally understand each applicant, which is why colleges may want to look beyond these factors when accepting students. When I am asked to tell something about myself, my mind does not go to the score I got on my ACT or my GPA, as those numbers are not what defines me. I tell the person asking about the sports I play, the books I read, the activities I enjoy, or anything that offers a small glimpse into who I am as a person.
If colleges want to know their applicants and potential students, why place the bulk of the admissions decisions on numbers that only tell a small fraction of the story? Word Count: 1236Works CitedAbell, Patricia, and Klass, Patricia H. “The Efficacy of Quantitative Factors Incorporated into the College Admissions Process as Predictors of College Success.” The Efficacy of Quantitative Factors Incorporated into the College Admissions Process as Predictors of College Success, 2002, pp. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Accessed 10 Jan.
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“GPA, SAT, ACT … RIP.” College Admissions, edited by Dedria Bryfonski, Greenhaven Press, 2015.
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Originally published in The Gallup Blog, 9 July 2013. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018Crouse, James, and Dale Trusheim. “The Case against the SAT.” Public Interest, no. 93, 1988, p.
97. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018Tough, Paul. “Grit, character and other noncognitive skills: the author of How Children Succeed on an alternative way of thinking about those factors that contribute to student success.” School Administrator, June 2013, p. 28+. Educators Reference Complete, http://link.galegroup.
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