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Secrets of the SAT and Ivy League Admissions

By John Dorian Chang

The SAT test is a rite of passage for all high school students. Score too low, and you face an uphill battle to get into Harvard. You’ll spend hundreds of the-college-pros20hours studying for, worrying about, and taking the exam.

Here, I’ll discuss two key questions on your mind.

One, what do colleges like Stanford look for with respect to SAT scores? What is a “good enough” score?

Two, how can I best prepare for the SAT? How do I spend my time and money wisely?

Ivy League schools look for high competence, not perfection

1. A high score. This is obvious – but exactly how high is high?

My recommendation for SAT score is 2100. You should target 700 across each section to be considered for Ivy League admissions. Anything sub-700 will raise an eyebrow.

Of course, the higher the better. But as I argue, at a certain point it’s smarter to spend your time elsewhere.

The best evidence of this is my experience as an admissions officer. I can count on one hand the number of times an applicant has been rejected because a 2100+ SAT score was “too low” (and that’s usually in conjunction with other negative academic qualities, such as a weak course transcript).

But there are countless times – I repeat, countless times – that students have been put into the denial/rejection pile because, despite a very high SAT score (including 2350s!), they simply had nothing else to show.

2. A record of improvement. If you’re like me, and you scored dismally on your first try (I’m not even going to tell you what my score was initially), you’ll want to take the SAT again. But keep in mind:

-You shouldn’t take it more than 3 times total – anything more, and you look desperate and a little stupid unless you get a 2400.

-You need to consistently improve your score. This is very important. If your first score was 2020, second score was 2150, and third score was 2060. Guess which score they’ll focus on? Not your highest one, but the last one. Even if you’re allowed to put your highest per section scores on the Common App, colleges still review your College Board official score reports closely. I guarantee it.

3. SAT over ACT always

While the ACT is a challenging test and in many ways superior to the SAT, you should always take the SAT. When admissions offices have 2 borderline candidates – with roughly identical high school backgrounds and similar caliber of extracurricular achievements – the one who has a knockout SAT score will always look more impressive than one with a knockout ACT

Why? Because significantly fewer people take the ACT – standards are more varied, plus the vast majority of admissions officers took the SAT themselves and not the ACT. They’re familiar with it, and they know how hard it is to get a knockout score…not so with the ACT.

Preparation should be focused on two things – sample tests and an early start

1. Start early. As said before, take the PSAT at least once before the NMSQT. It’s a risk free chance to practice. Take the SAT in 7th grade for the Duke TIP as well.

2. Be wary of SAT courses and prep programs with exaggerated promises. I took a Kaplan course back in high school – about the only thing I remember is creative flashcards that minimally improved my vocabulary. My parents were out a few thousand bucks. Sit in on sample classes before you commit.

Looking back on the whole experience, I got the most by far out of books available at your local library. The good thing about a class is that it forces you to study and practice, but if you have the self-motivation (and I’m hoping you do), you can save significant time and money with cheap and/or freely
available resources.

3. Do as many sample tests as possible. More than anything else – this is what makes the difference. The more practice problems you answer, the more comfortable you will be. Do them all – from Princeton Review to Barron’s, love your local Barnes & Noble.

4. Don’t forget online resources. New companies online are doing amazing things with online, interactive learning. Google is your best friend. The best part is, it’s free or very very cheap.

5. Practice with friends. Oddly enough, I did very little of this. But the few times where a friend and I studied and took practice tests together were incredibly helpful. Their perspective will be different, and teach you much more than if you study alone for weeks on end.

Don’t practice in large groups – you’ll be completely unproductive and you know it. Study with one other person who’s serious and committed, and solve problems together. 2 brains is far better than 1.

About the author:
Hopeless To Harvard is a former Admissions Officer’s account of how to get into Stanford, Princeton, and Ivy League schools. Click here to break into the school of your dreams! Read Ivy League admissions advice now.


Filed under: Admissions, AP Courses, College Planning, High School, Home Schooling, Ivy League Schools, Students, , , , , , , , , , ,

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