Who says colleges don’t like to see perfect grades and perfect scores? There’s a piece up on “Forbes” by Willard Dix, a regular contributor on the topic of college admissions. We quite often agree with much of what Dix has to say, including much of what he writes in his latest thoughtful piece entitled “Approaching Highly Selective College Admission Testing.” As our regular readers (and even our new readers) tend to know, highly selective college admissions isn’t all about grades and scores. Students with perfect grades and perfect scores are so often denied admission by America’s most elite colleges. Harvard loves to reject students with perfect grades, 1600 SAT scores, with 3 800’s on the SAT Subject Tests. And so too does Stanford. And Yale, Princeton, etc. You get the idea.
And why? Because highly selective colleges don’t just want students with perfect grades and scores. They want students with perfect or near-perfect grades and scores who are really, really interesting and have singular talents. They want students who will make their mark on the world. They want students who will contribute to the great diversity of the university. But keep in mind that at no point did we mention that the very best schools don’t want their students to have the very best grades and the very best scores. There are so many applicants with the very best grades and scores that you just need all the rest to stand out in this process.
So while we do agree in theory with Dix’s larger point, these sentences he writes are a bit misleading: “OK, fine, highly competitive colleges do look at scores, and they need to be good. (There’s a certain cognitive dissonance in the way colleges talk about scores.) What they don’t need to be is perfect. My point is this: It is far more valuable in the long run to have worked hard in school on developing, deepening, and expanding one’s intellectual capacities than to cram or ‘study’ for an exam of dubious personal educational value.”
Of course he’s right that learning and growing is more important than cramming for tests like the SAT or ACT. Who can argue with that? But when he writes that they need to be good, what he really means to say is the scores need to be great. And perfect is great too! Do they need to be perfect? No. We help students all the time earn admission to colleges with significantly less than perfect SAT and ACT scores. But Dix’s argument kind of (not totally) implies they don’t want students with perfect scores. They do. They just want their students with perfect grades and perfect scores to also be intellectually curious, talented, and absolutely interesting. That’s all! It’s not so hard, right?