Decreasing importance of SATs in admissions disadvantages international students

By SOOYEON KIM ’17

Contributing Writer

by Alexa J. Williams '14 Arts Editor

by Alexa J. Williams ’14
Arts Editor

Last week Eric Westervelt of NPR stated that reducing the importance of SATs in college applications and instead focusing on school records would benefit more students during the college admission. Considering that SATs can be unfairly curved and school transcripts usually provide a more holistic view of a student’s academic career, reducing the significance of SAT results has great potential to substantially improve the college admission process. However, international students and students from unorthodox educational systems would be disadvantaged. As an international student from Korea who was also homeschooled, I write on behalf of all non-traditional and international students when I state that reducing the importance of SATs in admissions impedes our only chance to prove ourselves worthy of admission.

An increasing number of students worldwide seek an education in U.S. colleges, and the number of international applicants will not be falling anytime soon. Many of these international applicants are accepted to U.S. schools. Nowadays they are an undeniably important part of college communities, providing diversity of culture and viewpoints to college campuses in the United States. These international students tend to take more standardized tests than their U.S. counterparts, often taking many more SAT subject tests or Advanced Placement exams than required by the college. This is because transcripts from schools in their native countries often have different grading systems than those in the United States; international and domestic transcripts are difficult to compare and contrast. Importantly, many schools in East Asia, especially in Japan and China, have extremely strict grading policies, often leading to severe grade deflation—a concept with which Wellesley students are familiar. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, U.S. college students will need to obtain more experience with different cultures and opinions in order to become global leaders in society. Reducing the significance of SATs will harm not only the international students who will be unable to matriculate but also the domestic students for whom diversity in educational institutions is essential.

Homeschooled students or students who have graduated from alternative schools will also be severely disadvantaged by a reduction in the importance of the SATs in college admission processes. While still in the minority, these students are the ones who will be the most negatively impacted by the change proposed by Westervelt. Without an official school transcript, these alternative students have fewer application materials to send to colleges than their counterparts do. To make up for the absence of school transcripts, they must take more standardized tests to prove that they are as worthy of admission as students with official school records. Due to their lack of a school system, alternative students typically struggle even to take standardized tests. I had trouble registering for the SATs and Advanced Placement exams on my own. However, standardized exams are the only way we have to prove our abilities. Once the SATs are removed from consideration in the  college admission process, alternative students to convince colleges that they are as capable as their counterparts. And as colleges that admit these students readily argue, alternative students are often extremely vibrant and talented members of the community.

Furthermore, reducing the importance of standardized tests in college admission processes has already proved to be a failure. Take South Korea, for example, which has made the mistake of reducing the importance of the Sooneung Exam, the Korean version of the SATs. In response to students’ complaints about the notoriously curved nature of the Sooneung, many Korean colleges decided to increase the importance of school records instead of relying mainly on Sooneung scores. This worked out for a few years, before high schools realized that the best way to send as many of their students to prestigious Korean colleges as possible was to assign perfect grades to everyone. Suddenly grade inflation appeared in high schools and spread like wildfire across the country, and the once-revered college admissions process became a gamble as every prospective student applied with a suspiciously perfect GPA. Though the Korean government is trying to control this situation, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be going away anytime soon. Coupled with the few very talented homeschooled students losing every chance of being admitted to colleges, this change proved to be disastrous for students. A few Korean colleges bluntly told me that they could not accept me due to my lack of a school transcript—and this was after I took the Korean GEDs. Decreasing the importance of standardized tests in college admission will doubtlessly produce catastrophic results, likely including severe grade inflation in high schools.

Undeniably, the current admission process is flawed—but no process is completely without flaws. The SAT score curve may be serious, but eliminating the curve is definitely not worth denying international and alternative students the right to be considered equal to domestic, traditional students. Reducing the significance of SATs is not worth taking away domestic students’ rights to learn about different cultures, experiences and ways of life, or these unorthodox students’ rights to study at an institution that they dreamt of learning at.

2 Comments

  • Guest says:

    Hey. I just stumbled upon this post and you make a very strong point. I myself, am a prospective international student from Africa and understand what you mean when you talk about grade deflation. Coming from a school where not only are our grading policies stricter than others but exam timetables also extremely strenuous, I see why you say that reducing the importance of SATs would hurt international students but at the same time, I feel as though that may not be the case for all. In my school for example, we focus on our IB program which is 6 demanding subjects and then three requirements, as well as all the things that boarding school throws at you like mandatory events etc and we have to find time to fit our SATs in. More often than not, students study the day before or at best in batches but without an form of paid prep or anything, we are usually never as prepared as counterparts abroad. So while I understand my SATs are required, I think that my 730 in CR (which was half luck half knack ) should either be judged in the context of this, or not at all. Many students in my school are not used to multiple choice and simply do not have time in their busy IB schedule to dedicate hours to SAT, but do very well in school in general as opposed to that one test (SAT).
    Perhaps SATs could be optional, so students can judge for themselves whether they think they represent them well or better still, maybe they should be judged in context if they’re not already. I’m not too sure of Wellesley does this but I know some other schools do?

    • Sooyeon Kim says:

      Hi,
      I have a few friends from schools that implement the IB system as well, so I get your point. I’ve heard that the IB system and the SAT/SAT II/AP exams are often not compatible, and I’ve also heard that it’s extremely hard to work with both given the amount of time students have to prepare for college admissions. While I am not entirely sure, I’m positive that students from schools with the IB system are judged in that context. After all, many people think that at the end of the day college admissions all boil down to your overall performance in school.
      As for making the SATs optional, I do know that many schools give you a choice between SATs and ACTs. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for them to add another IB option while there at it, since the three exam systems are completely different from each other.
      730 in CR is a very impressive score, though! I highly doubt you should be worried about that. 🙂

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