In short, yes, a high SAT score can show colleges the true talent of a student. Colleges also have their own ranking systems like US News and World Report that create incentives to take students with higher test scores. For students aiming for a four year college, the best way to counter poor grades is by getting a high SAT score.
Meaning of A High SAT to colleges:
A high SAT score proves to colleges that the student has the ability to succeed in college level curriculum because it shows that the student has a strong inclination for reading comprehension, understanding grammar rules, and grasping math fundamentals through analyzing graphs and processing data. Many colleges look at the SAT as a final exam for every high school student in the country, and a high score displays that a student has learned the concepts taught in school and can apply them when asked.
In a more controversial light, high scores on the SAT do typically signal to colleges that students have higher intellectual ability and aptitude because they are aware that it is much harder to score well on the SAT than it is to maintain a high GPA.
Meaning of low GPA to colleges:
College do look closely at trends in grades in order to understand discrepancies between students’ GPAs and class test scores. Let’s run through a few of these scenarios:
- Extenuating circumstances: if a student maintained a high GPA early in their high school career but had extenuating circumstances like health or family issues that led to bad grades, colleges will assess that trend in order to see if the student has potential that is not displayed in their GPA.
- Too many extracurricular activities: spending a lot of time, consistently, in worthwhile extracurricular activities — like debate team, volunteering, or sports— shows that a student is talented in specific fields and has important character traits like being dedicated and passionate but does not entirely excuse a low GPA. However, pairing these activities with a high SAT score can help a student overcome a low GPA
- Kind of classes taken or Academic Rigor: Colleges look at the kind of classes a student takes, whether they be AP, IB, or Honors in order to understand low grades. If a student takes harder classes and has a low GPA, this is looked more favorably upon than a student who takes easier classes but also got a low GPA. It is also important for students to specify if their school offers higher level classes to make their argument more compelling for why they were unable to take these classes.
- Passing an AP or IB exam: even if students perform badly in one of these classes during the school year, it can help demonstrate to colleges their academic ability as well as that they did have a mastery of the material through passing the AP or IB exam for that class.
- Low grades but upward trajectory: if a student has typically had a low GPA in their high school career but has shown a recent upward trend in grades, a college will assess this trajectory in order to see if it feels the student can maintain this potential or if they are too inconsistent. It does signal to colleges that the student is capable of growing and improving, which will be looked favorable upon.
Regardless of the circumstances that students face in their GPA trends, colleges do take a long hard look at these trends before discarding students’ applications.
Where should a student apply with high SAT scores but Low GPAs:
The odds of admission into a school depend on where a student is applying but a student can set up their success by looking at the range of scores and GPAs accepted by that school. It is important to recognize that a student with high SAT scores and a low GPA should consider applying to less competitive colleges because their SAT will help them stand out in the applicant pool and assure that the applicant gets a closer look. For example, a student with a GPA of less than 2.5 but an SAT score above 1450 has a real chance at a school with above a 30% acceptance rate.
At competitive colleges with acceptance rates below 30%, many applicants in the pool have great SAT scores. This means that admissions officers are more likely looking for candidates who have both a high SAT and high GPA because there are many of those kinds of students in the pool. A student with a high SAT and low GPA can be considered risky and a spot to this kind of university will be given to an applicant who does not present this risk.
How to Make Up for a Low GPA with the Rest of the Application:
There are a few ways that students can take some control back in order to ensure that their application is given a good look even if they have a low GPA:
- Personal statement: This essay gives students the opportunity to prove themselves and talk about circumstances that arose that contributed to their low GPA. It can also help students explain their interests outside of schools that help offset a low GPA. It is important for students to take this essay seriously and take time to make sure that it is well-written and unique. SoFlo offers online college admissions counseling to help students build their personal statements.
- Extracurriculars: Extracurriculars signal a student’s interests in a field outside of school. If a student can display long-term commitment to an activity that highlights their academic interests, this can help offset and potentially explain a low GPA. As mentioned previously, extracurriculars also signal that a student is dedicated and passionate about something, which can reflect more about the student than a GPA can.
- Teacher Recommendations: Teacher recommendations are a good way to provide supportive evidence for what is written in an application in order to back up the positive characteristics a student exhibits that are not reflected in a GPA. It is important to select a teacher that can be specific about the student’s abilities or can speak to any of the circumstances that were written about in the personal statement.
Consider Applying to Oxford
If a student with a low GPA but high SAT score wants to attend a top tier university, Oxford is their best bet at acceptance. Oxford does not value extracurriculars and grades take 2nd place to SAT scores. Because SAT scores are the main way students can signal to Oxford their intellectual ability, the standards are very high with the minimum SAT score accepted being a 1470 out of 1600. Oxford also does look at AP exams and requires that a student has to get 5s on at least 3 AP Exams and score above a 700 on 3 SAT subject tests.
A student with a low GPA should focus on trying to get this GPA up to the best of their ability or explain the extenuating circumstances that led to their grade drops. If it is too late for a student to pull up his or her grades, the way for a student to take back control is to focus on making their application the best it can be by highlighting their extracurriculars, writing a unique personal statement, and getting effective teacher recommendations.
Colleges want students who are intellectually curious and engaged in class because this signals that they are capable of continuing this behavior in college. Therefore, if a student receives a high standardized test score but has a low GPA, admissions officers need to understand the full story, and it is up to the student to communicate that story.
About the Author: Grace Patrice
Grace comes from the University of Pennsylvania where she was on the swimming team. She scored a 760 on SAT Reading and a 720 on SAT Math. At Penn she studies Marketing and Management. Grace is a Virgo and her fun fact is that she is on the cover of a best-selling children’s book. Grace remembers how hard she worked to raise her SAT score and loves helping the next generation achieve the same success.