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Determining College Fit—By the Numbers

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Very often when students use a short-hand way to determine if a certain college is a good fit, they look up the standardized test scores for the college. But what test score number he uses to make the assessment matters.

Of course, we all know that good fit, even just thinking about the academic part of fit, does not have to do with just the incoming abilities of the students as predicted by their standardize test scores. Besides basic academic abilities, there is also the level of intensity toward academic pursuits on a given campus. And the competitiveness of students--for example, does the campus culture foster collaboration or competitiveness? And academics is influenced by the work/ play style on the campus. And the kind of majors taught and amount of research done on a campus influence the academic atmosphere. And there are more. But these aside, students often look for a short-hand way to determine academic fit.

So if a student is using a number that he calls the average SAT or ACT score of students at Somename State University, it matters where he finds that number. If he is using the score produced by a program called Naviance which is employed by many high schools to give students information about the scores and GPAs of students from their high school who have been “accepted” to this college, then he may be seeing a much higher average score than might exist for those attending this school. This is because some of the students who were accepted to this college will not attend, and the ones who will most likely not attend are those at the very top of the chart. High scoring students tend to apply to more colleges than most other students and have more choices in the end of the process.

If, instead, the student looks on the admissions page of Somename State University’s website for a profile of its average student, he may or may not get the score of the average student “attending” the university. The website may give the average score of the “accepted” students. Or the website may give the score of the average student who is “attending” the university. This is where careful reading matters.

Two places where the student can be sure to find the right reported score for a student “attending” the university in which is interested are: a website called, and a website containing a published document called The Common Data Set for Somename State University for 2016, for this year, for instance. This document contains the data that the college is required to file with the U. S. government each year.

When I did a recent investigation with a student of so called Somename State University, for instance, the score on Naviance at his high school for the average accepted student was 1360 on the SATs. The website for the university sited an even higher score for the average “accepted” student. But when we looked up the information for this university on the site we learned that the score for the average attending student was 1275—85 points lower than what my student had been expecting. It turned out that the school—based on standardized test scores, only—appeared to be a good fit for the student.

Another source of information about standardized test scores that we found helpful was Wintergreen Orchard House data. There the data for attending students is described this way: students who scored: 500-599 44%, 600-699 45%, and 700-800 11%. So, in this case if your student's score was 570, you would know that he or she would fall into the group with scores in the lower half of the attending students and might have to work harder than most.

Of course there are other issues to discuss concerning “averaging” test scores, but that is for another blog. 



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