Ivy League Athletes, Admissions, And The Academic Index

Ivy League Athletes, Admissions, And The Academic Index

04 December, 2017

The academic index ranks applicants on a scale from 60 to 240, with each of three categories counting for 20 to 80 points: grades, SAT scores, and SAT Subject Test scores. For example,  a GPA of zero is worth 20 points, and a 4.0 is worth 80. SAT scores, as determined by the average of the math and reading test scores, are worth 20 points for a 200, and up to 80 points for a perfect 800.SAT Subject Test scores, which are assessed as the average of the best two (or three) submitted scores, are also given 20 points for a 200 and up to 80 points for an 800.

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The Ivy League Academic Index

For many years now, prospective applicants to Ivy League schools have used the Academic Index (AI), a universal ranking system based on a combination of test scores and GPA, as a proxy for assessing their chances of admission. In recent years, athletic recruits in particular have found themselves calculating and recalculating their numbers, hoping to better predict where they will be accepted. Like many statistics, the AI will tell you something. But it might not tell you what you need to know.

How Does It Work?

The academic index ranks applicants on a scale from 60 to 240, with each of three categories counting for 20 to 80 points: grades, SAT scores, and SAT Subject Test scores. For example,  a GPA of zero is worth 20 points, and a 4.0 is worth 80. SAT scores, as determined by the average of the math and reading test scores, are worth 20 points for a 200, and up to 80 points for a perfect 800.SAT Subject Test scores, which are assessed as the average of the best two (or three) submitted scores, are also given 20 points for a 200 and up to 80 points for an 800.

Students who want to see where they would rank on the index can use any number of online Ivy League Academic Index calculators, including this one from College Confidential. A score of about 220 overall puts students into the mix of Ivy League admissions.

Recruited athletes, for whom this index can make or break admissions decisions, are held to a range of AI standards depending on the college, the team, and the athlete’s skill level.

What does it mean?

What’s striking about the academic index when it comes to student athletes, and what seems to have been underreported, or perhaps insufficiently commented upon, is that once a student has been recruited for athletics many Ivy League-level schools view test scores as two-thirds of the academic qualifications for admission. For all the high-minded talk about looking beyond test scores in order to see the total applicant, college presidents, in attempting to make sure that student athletes can compete in the classroom, are relying on a mathematical formula that values test scores twice as much as it does grades.

How could this be? Do standardized test scores really mean something, despite so many informed opinions to the contrary? Is the SAT actually a valid predictor of college success? Will the SAT always be with us?

As a tutor who teaches high school students to improve their SAT and SAT Subject Test scores, I suppose that nothing should please me more. And yes, a continued reliance on test scores by some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges cannot be bad for my line of work.

But as a parent, and as someone who advises and cares about many overstressed students and parents, I say let’s remember that while strong test scores may be (nearly) necessary for admission to a top college, they are most certainly not sufficient. Colleges really do look at an applicant’s complete file. I have seen many students, and not just athletes, admitted to elite schools with less than perfect scores — provided that they are fascinating, compelling people with valuable contributions to make.

Are test scores all that matter?

William Deresiewicz, a skeptic on the value of an elite American education, argues that the Ivy League members and similar schools do not teach a great deal of what you need to know about life. In fact, he believes that rarefied universities look mostly for analytical skill, to the exclusion of other forms of intelligence.

The result, he argues, is a technocratic leadership class that is at times woefully out of touch with most of the people it purports to lead. Although I believe that Deresiewicz slightly overstates the case, I agree that an outsize dependence on the SAT in elite college admissions has led some schools to select for smarts rather than wisdom. It all reminds me of a wonderful quote in “To End All Wars,” an account by Adam Hochschild of the tragic debacle that was World War I:

“The great thing about the French governing elite, it was said at the time, was that they knew everything. The problem, however, was that that was all they knew.”

So go ahead, have fun, calculate your score on the academic index. If you are in high school, that number won’t tell you whether you will get into Penn or Brown. If you are an adult, it undoubtedly does not tell you much about your current self — except maybe that you are silly and vain for having run the numbers at all. No number can tell us very much more than that.

People are not numbers. Information is not wisdom. School is not life. And admission may be acceptance, but it is not self-worth.

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About the Author
Brendan Mernin
Noodle Pro Brendan Mernin has been a leader in test prep and admissions since 1989. Along with being a star tutor and dad, Brendan is helping improve STEM education with a nonprofit called...

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