Why a 1600 on the SAT isn’t necessary

It happened again…

One of my students was thrilled with her SAT score–a 1560. She immediately phoned home only to be confronted with “maybe next time you will get a 1600.”


How discouraging. Here is the hard truth. A 1600 on the SAT isn’t going to increase your shot at a top level university over a 1560. In the eyes of an admissions committee, a 1560, 1570, 1580, 1590 and 1600 are the same thing. They indicate an excellent student who can perform well on the SAT. The difference between a 1560 and an 1600 can be as little as 2 questions. Two! Out of 154 total questions.

The SAT is not like other entrance exams in other countries

Some countries have exams that rank every student from the student with highest score to those with the lowest scores and the top scoring students are offered admission in the top universities. American admissions doesn’t work that way. Yes, you need a high score to prove you can do the work and that your grades are legitimate. But students with the highest SAT (or ACT) scores do not automatically get into the top universities.

American universities and colleges are looking for other things in addition to SAT scores

The hard truth for international students is that admission to top level American universities has a personality component. The schools of course want you to have excellent grades and test scores, but they also want you to demonstrate passion and leadership. You are expected to have done something else with your time besides studying. This is why you will read about students with a 1450 getting into Harvard. Those students had something extra that made them stand out as potential future leaders. Harvard would rather have a student with a 1450 who spent his time organizing an international conference and addressed world leaders rather than a 1600 student who hasn’t left his or her desk in 4 years.

Think of your SAT score as a key that gets you into the room where decisions are made

A high SAT score will allow you to be considered seriously, but once you are in that room, your SAT score isn’t the biggest factor under consideration. Everyone in that room has an excellent SAT score. However, your experiences outside of class, your personal interests and passions, and your application essays will help you stand out from the crowd.

A 1600 on the SAT isn’t a magic solution to gaining entrance to top American schools. You are better off with a score in the 1500s and some personal experiences that show your maturity, ambition, work ethic, and personality.

Aim for the top 25% of SAT stats for your desired unviersity

If you look through the college websites, you can find the test scores for students who were admitted in the past. Those numbers are often expressed in a range, for example 1450-1600. You ideally want to be in the top of that range. International students are competing for fewer seats than American students and so they need their stats to be higher than average.

Your SAT score is only part of your application

Sometimes students spend years preparing for the SAT, and neglect the rest of their lives. Consider the opportunity of cost of spending another month (or 6 months) trying to raise that score a few more points. What else can you do with that time that will make you attractive to the university?

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