Grades and Test Scores Are Not Becoming Less Important in Admissions

Grades Matter in Admissions, Scores Matter in Admissions, Grades and Scores

Grades and test scores matter big time in college admissions. Any suggestion to the contrary is a false narrative (photo credit: Derrick Smith).

There’s an opinion out there in the universe that grades and test scores are becoming less important in the highly selective college admissions process. In fact, there was recently an editorial in “The Atlantic” by Jeffrey Selingo entitled “The Two Most Important College-Admissions Criteria Now Mean Less” that asserted as much, in unequivocal terms. Since one of the core objectives of our college admissions blog is to dispel fallacies about the admissions process, we couldn’t help but address this article today — because the article’s writer couldn’t be more wrong.

Grades and Test Scores Matter Big Time in Admissions, Contrary to Assertions Otherwise

Mr. Selingo writes in his editorial in “The Atlantic,” “For generations, two numbers have signaled whether a student could hope to get into a top college: his or her standardized test score and his or her grade-point average…Eighty percent of American colleges accept more than half of their applicants, but at the country’s most selective schools, there is something of a merit crisis: As test scores and GPAs hold less sway, admissions offices are searching for other, inevitably more subjective metrics. Each year, the professional association representing college-admissions officers asks its members about the top factors they consider when making decisions about applications. Grades, test scores, and the strength of one’s high-school curriculum still remain at the top of that list. But other criteria are playing a larger role than they used to: Students’ ‘demonstrated interest’ in enrolling at a particular school, as measured by their visits to campus or what they say in their application materials, among other things, is critical. In addition, admissions officers at about half of the institutions surveyed said an applicant’s ‘ability to pay’ was of at least ‘some importance’ in application decisions.”

The Suggestion that Grades and Test Scores Matter Less in Admissions is Misleading

Mr. Selingo couldn’t be more misleading. In fact, his piece is full of contradictions. His editorial’s title states that grades and test scores now mean less in the highly selective college admissions process. In the piece, he even writes, “As test scores and GPAs hold less sway..” That’s all false. Grades and test scores remain the two most important factors in the process. Indeed Mr. Selingo even writes this in his piece when he nonchalantly states (even though it totally contradicts his piece’s title), “Grades, test scores, and the strength of one’s high-school curriculum still remain at the top of that list.”

You see, grades and test scores remain the two most important factors in college admissions — and Demonstrated Interest, the strength of an applicant’s admissions essays, his or her ability to pay, etc. have been vital factors in the highly selective college admissions process for decades (no, colleges are not really need-blind!). To suggest that these factors are relatively new and that the importance of grades and test scores is fading is misleading. Heck, as but one example, we’ve been writing about the importance of Demonstrated Interest in admissions at Ivy Coach since the 1990’s. Mr. Selingo seems to be late to the party. Donna Summer already sang “Last Dance.”

But, Ivy Coach, wouldn’t the rise of universities choosing to go test-optional speak to test scores holding “less sway”? No. As Amy Winehouse would sing it, “No, no, no.” Schools choosing to go test optional speaks to colleges seeking to attract more applicants to lower their admit rates and improve their all-important “US News & World Report” ranking. And you bet test scores matter to even test-optional schools — arguably more than for schools that are not test-optional. But, Ivy Coach, that makes no sense? Think about it. Test scores — even at test-optional schools — influence a school’s “US News & World Report” ranking. When a school doesn’t require that applicants submit test scores, the test scores of their applicants who do choose to report scores have even more influence because these scores form a smaller pool of data that influences the school’s ranking. It’s the whole bigger fish, smaller pond phenomenon.

Grades and test scores haven’t lost any sway in admissions decision-making in recent years. Not in the least. All of the other factors in the highly selective college admissions process continue to have major influence…just as they have for many years, Mr. Selingo. Highly selective colleges have used holistic admissions policies for many years. You, Mr. Selingo, are promoting a false narrative. Should we drop the mic? Yeah, we’ll drop the mic.


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