Study Finds Grades and SATs Dominate Admissions Decisions

College admissions officials weigh grades and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores three times as heavily as personal qualities and extracurricular activities, a study released earlier this week finds.

The nine-college study, jointly sponsored by the College Board and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) compared students accepted with those turned down, and found that 75 percent of the time academic rather than personal ratings were the key predictive factors.

Pointing out that its findings run counter to common beliefs about the relative importance of extracurricular achievements in the admissions process, the study concludes that these activities usually make the difference only when the academic record is inconclusive.

William R. Fitzsimmons '67, acting dean of admissions, said Thursday that the study did not apply to Harvard, which places a "heavy emphasis" on personal qualities in admissions.

The most selective colleges have greater leeway to emphasize personal qualities than schools that admit most of their applicants, the study's co-author and ETS researcher Warren H. Willingham said.


"At the tough, academically challenging schools, academics come first," the admissions director at Kalamazoo College, a survey participant said this week. He added that the finding "reflects a state of affairs that's been in place for years."

Fitzsimmons said that it is difficult to capture the essence of the admissions process using statistical correlations. Unless the academic record is extremely high or low, he explained, the decision comes down to a large number of, "intangible."

Wallingham yesterday defended his results, saying they reflect broad insight about the admissions process and never claim to be detailed predictions of individual cases.

Wallingham said he was surprised by the results and hoped they would not discourage high school students from pursuing extracurricular interests, which he called "terribly important." He concluded, "Colleges are not sending as strong a message as they ought to or might want to," he concluded.

The study also shows that affirmative action programs gave minority students an advantage and that "all-round" students in high school and those who excell in one area were equally successful in gaining admission.