A New “Adversity Score” Is Being Added to the SAT to Inform College Admission Decisions

In recent years, college admissions teams have changed what they’re looking for, relying less on test scores like the ACT and SAT as people have increasingly claimed these tests are inherently discriminatory against underprivileged students who can’t access expensive and time-consuming test prep courses and materials to help them do well.

However, the College Board, the company responsible for writing and administering the SAT, is now making a change that may bring it back to popularity with the admissions departments of colleges and universities. They’re adding an “adversity score” to judge students on their social and economic background.

The adversity score for each student will be determined based on 15 factors, including the high school’s crime and poverty rates, the student’s “housing environment,” the education and income of the students’ parents, and whether the student has access to advanced placement (AP) and other higher-level learning classes.

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The College Board says the average adversity score is 50, but the potential scores range from 1 to 100. Anything above 50 indicates that a student is underprivileged. Anything below it denotes privilege. College admissions advisers will have access to the adversity scores through the SAT’s online score reporting system, within the tab “Overall Disadvantage Level.”

The adversity score is meant to help inform the college admissions process so that well-rounded students with important achievements and/or good grades under their belts get a chance to get into higher education despite potentially low SAT scores. It’s a way of explaining why a student’s SAT scores may be low, despite the student’s overall abilities and performance being high.

“There are a number of amazing students who may have scored less (on the SAT) but have accomplished more,” says David Coleman, CEO of The College Board. “We can’t sit on our hands and ignore the disparities of wealth reflected in the SAT.”

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In light of the recent scandal involving wealthy celebrity families paying their children’s way into top universities, the Supreme Court cautioned schools not to use self-reported application data as a deciding factor in students’ admission. The adversity score, therefore, may offer a more objective way for schools to diversify their student bodies without asking personal questions and classifying individuals based on potentially biased internal systems.

However, there is a catch to the new system. Students will not be able to view or challenge their adversity scores, leading many to wonder whether they’ll be doled out fairly and how they’ll affect students’ chances to get into college. No system is perfect, after all.

Last year, the College Board started a beta test with the adversity score. It involved about 50 schools, including Yale University. This year, 100 more schools will try out the new scoring system. So far, schools seem to appreciate the extra information.

“This (adversity score) is literally affecting every application we look at,” says a Yale admissions dean. “It has been a part of the success story to help diversify our freshman class.”

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Elizabeth Nelson

Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?

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