Dreams Deferred: Colleges Conspire with College Board to Recruit Low-Scoring Students They Can Subsequently Reject to Boost their Rankings

Once again, we need to issue to our students a “Buyer Beware” regarding the College Admissions Test Industrial Complex.

The Wall Street Journal has broken the story how the College Board, father of the SAT, is selling personal information from low-scoring students to colleges, which then recruit these same kids to apply with the explicit goal of rejecting them – in order to increase the selectivity of their institutions.

In other words, weak-testing high school kids are receiving brochures from colleges asking them to apply so they can get thrown into the deny pile to make these same colleges look more “selective.”

Parents: Do you remember filling in all those bubbles to indicate your mailing addresses? Current students: Do you recall navigating page after online page to share your email and personal info? Well, The WSJ revealed that universities like Vanderbilt have risen in the rankings by purchasing personal information from SAT test takers, then sending enticing emails to apply to those whose SAT scores end up subpar. More applications mean a college is harder to get into: Vandy’s acceptance rate dropped from 46% to 11% from 2002 to 2017, while its rankings went up and up. The university bought between 100,000-200,000 names from the College Board last year.

It’s almost like we need to identify the ACT-SAT arms race for what it is: Big Testing, à la Big Pharma and Big Tech. Last month the ACT pretended to be user-friendly by offering already stressed out students the chance to retake single sections of the test. Translation: Obsessive kids with the financial means can pay ad nauseum to try to inch up their section scores by sacrificing multiple Saturday mornings to retake portions of the test. And now we hear about this new quid pro quo collusion: Take the SAT, and receive a rejection.

It’s no wonder enlightened colleges have dropped the testing requirement since they see no correlation between success in college to the ability to ace a standardized test. Top colleges like Bowdoin and Holy Cross figured this out years ago. The University of Chicago joined The Enlightenment and became test optional last year. What’s on the horizon? If the University of California drops the SAT or ACT requirement, as it is considering, the college admissions landscape will be stricken by an earthquake and more and more colleges will drop the tests too.

So what can the poor kids in the crosshairs do? Well, put the tests in context. A true college search process serves as a healthy rite of passage for teenagers, sort of like Driver’s Ed on steroids: slowly, a teen evolves from watching the road from the backseat, to riding shotgun, and then finally taking the wheel. Continue to choose and excel in classes that spark your interest, pursue a focused set of extracurriculars that pique your passions and contribute to the growth of others – and yourself. Compose authentic, first-person essays that open a window to your personality. Earn teacher recommendations that testify to your love of learning. As for standardized testing? Caveat Emptor.

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