Bear with me, this is a long post. But we get A LOT of questions about testing/GPAs, so I'm trying to be very thorough.
Let me set the scene: I’m giving my information session. I’ve just spent 40 minutes talking about the incredible community and opportunities available at Tufts. I’ve recounted study abroad experiences in Talloires, France, shared faculty initiatives like free coffee, listed out dozens of extracurricular activities, and brought to life numerous campus traditions. Exciting stuff. And now I’ve moved into talking about admissions and the various application requirements.
“You as a student are so much more than your testing and GPAs. Evaluating testing and transcripts is the LEAST exciting part of our jobs. We’d so much rather read teacher recommendations, personal statements, and supplements to really get to know the student and the fit for our campus. Testing is just ONE piece of the application process, and we care about so much more beyond it.” And I go on another minute or two to really hammer home that message. I conclude my session and stick around for questions. I encourage visitors to really ask questions of tour guides to get to know the vibe of this campus.
Can anyone guess the first question I typically get? Here it is: What’s the minimum SAT/ACT/GPA I need to get in?
Ahhh! I’m bummed I don’t get to answer a question about something more specific and awesome about the Tufts experience, or have a conversation about something that matters to the student...BUT I GET IT! Testing feels like everything when you’re a high school student in the college process. It feels like something that is simultaneously so controllable—(do more vocab flash cards, take more practice tests, study more!)—yet also totally out of your control—(someone was coughing behind you the whole test, you woke up feeling sick, you just got unlucky with questions). It’s probably the most anxiety-producing part of the whole process.
So let’s talk about it.
We'll start with standardized testing. At Tufts, we require the SAT or the ACT. We try to avoid talking about the average scores of our admitted students because those are the averages and don’t tell the whole story. But I’m going for transparency here, so here are the numbers for the admitted Class of 2022:
First things, first. I’ll acknowledge that those are really strong scores. Tufts is an academically rigorous place and draws many students and applicants who have very strong testing. But like I wrote above, these are the mid 50%, and the other 50% of admits are above and below!
Here’s what we want you to know—testing is very much influenced by a student’s environment, AND WE KNOW THAT. Some students have access to test prep books, tutors, classes, family members who can help them study. Some students don’t. Some high schools prepare students to take these tests. Some don’t. Our jobs as admissions officers is to understand the factors in the real lives of students that may impact the test scores for better or worse.
So when we see a test score, we see so much of what went in to that score. It's more than a number.
So where does that leave you? To the extent that you’re able—prep for these tests. Khan Academy offers free test prep materials. Take the test once, see how you do. Identify your weaknesses, and again, if you’re able to, target your weaknesses with a little more prep, and take the test one more time. Studies have shown that scores don’t improve much more beyond a second re-test.
We don’t want testing to become an extracurricular activity for you. You have better things to do. So if you’ve taken the test 1-3 times, it’s time to turn your attention to other things (living your best life, working on the rest of the application, spending time with people you like, etc.).
We hope you can take a healthy approach to standardized testing so it doesn’t add a heap of stress to your life. It’s just something you have to do to apply to college. Deep breath.
Now let’s talk GPAs.
If you read 10 applications from 10 different schools, you’ll probably see 4-8 different grading scales. In admissions, we are assigned geographic territories so we can get to know high schools and the various grading scales. Your schools also provide us with profiles so we can see curriculum offerings, grading scales, and any other noteworthy details that help us understand your academic choices in high school.
Here’s what we care about:
1. You’re challenging yourself (appropriately) in your high school. To the best of your abilities, you’re picking classes that will challenge you, but we also want you to be mindful of not overstretching yourself. We don't want you arriving on our campus totally burned out from high school! Think of it like a treadmill. If level 6 is too easy and you're totally cruising, no sweat, you’re not challenging yourself. If level 10 causes you to go breathless, sweat profusely, and fly off the back of the treadmill within 3 minutes, it’s too much for you. We want you to find your comfortable level 8 pace so you can maintain it for a good length of time, but you’re breaking a sweat and feeling like you’re getting a good workout. Have a conversation with your counselor about what that level 8 is FOR YOU!
2. We care that you’re taking the curriculum that makes the most sense for you to challenge yourself. That may be AP classes, IB classes, or dual enrollment. We value all of those options, and we’re not here to tell you which one is better. We do like to see you max out your curricular offerings at your high school before looking to outside resources. But through conversations with your counselor, you can figure out which curriculum will challenge you (see point #1).
3. We care how you’re doing academically in your classes. We don’t expect to see sparkling perfect transcripts all the time (not that we mind seeing those, though!), but as I said before, Tufts is a rigorous place so we are looking to admit students who are doing very well in high school. There might be blips or tough semesters. If appropriate, tell us why in the additional information section. Maybe you had a concussion for your 10th grade spring and got 2 Bs. Maybe there was family turmoil and you had extra home responsibilities. Maybe you moved schools and had a bit of a rocky start but hit your stride after a semester. All relevant! Your transcript tells us a story. Please help us understand your high school experience.
4. And finally, we care about your classroom experience and contributions. And we can’t see that on the transcript. You are more than a 4.0, A-, 96%, etc. And who you are as a student comes through in your teacher recommendations. But that’s content for another blog.
I hope this blog is helpful about understanding test scores and GPAs. Bottom line—find the right academic challenges, do your best in the classroom and on the tests, and spend your valuable time pursuing your passions, trying out new activities, and figuring out which college might be the best fit for you. That’s a much better use of time than agonizing over a 730 vs a 740 on your SAT math section.
Photo Credit: Flickr, Allen Foran