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Why It's OK for Colleges to Accept Minorities With Lower SAT Scores

The SATs are always scrutinized because they are a focal point of college admissions. As with most other tests, the people who do well think the SATs are a fair and accurate representation of their ability, while students who do poorly think the opposite. 

In my experience, even though some students are able to afford more SAT prep than others, the test is a fair indicator of aptitude, because affirmative action helps account for students’ socio-economic differences.

Let me explain. I took four months of private Kaplan SAT prep, which cost around $1,000 dollars, and scored a 2110 on my SAT. An African-American friend of mine took a free preparation course for the same amount of time, and scored a 1900. We had around the same grades, and my extra-curriculars were much better. We both applied to Georgetown University and Princeton University. While I was rejected from both, he was accepted. I cannot testify to the caliber of his essays or recommendations in comparison to my own. However, what seems clear is that the 210-point gap between our scores was balanced by Georgetown and Princeton’s affirmative action policies.

From USA Today (2009)
SATThe major factor that accounts for the disparity in students’ scores is those who can afford significant amounts of test preparation, and those who cannot. For the majority of students, preparation for the SAT is necessary. The test includes many esoteric vocabulary words, reading components testing “tricks” which students must learn, and math problems that span four years of classes that are difficult to remember without preparation. If 50 students had the exact same preparation, the test might be an accurate representation of students’ academic aptitudes. But, on average, most minority students cannot afford the same amount of preparation as others.

One of the main arguments in support of affirmative action is that it can help compensate for this difference in SAT scores. This argument operates under the assumption that minorities either do not value SAT preparation or cannot afford to take such preparation. Such a blanket statement is false, as there are many minority students and families who do value SAT preparation and can definitely afford it. Still, affirmative action ensures that minorities who cannot afford SAT prep have a fair shot.

In my experience, affirmative action adequately compensates for the racial and socio-economic problems associated with the SAT. Going back to my friend, his SAT preparation was free, and may have been worse than my private tutoring because there were more students in his class and he received less personalized attention. The SAT does not take this kind of difference into account (there is no score adjustment for students who did not get private tutoring). But, college admissions offices do. 

In a 2009 New York Times article, the Dean of Harvard University’s Admissions Office said, “our studies consistently demonstrate that standardized tests are helpful in predicting Harvard grades.” I can honestly say that out of the students in my top New York City public school, the test seems like a fair and accurate representation of a student’s academic aptitude. Only one friend who had an SAT score that I believe is an inaccurate representation of them is someone who scored excessively high, as a result of years of intensive prep. Because SAT scores are interpreted by experienced college admissions officers who take into account the fact that some minorities may not have the same preparation opportunities as other applicants, the test seems like a fair and accurate representation of a student’s academic aptitude.

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