educationvirtual children by Scott Warnock

The college admissions essay I’d write if I could

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Part 11 (of 874) in an occasional series about how standardized tests are destroying education.

If I were a college student now, I know exactly what I’d write to the admissions committee:

I would like to write to you about my SAT score. As you know, my score is MMM. MMM is a good score. I don’t apologize for it. But I believe, in this high-stakes moment of my life, that you need to know something:

I never took any preparatory SAT courses.

This is important information for you. Why did I forgo SAT prep courses? I’ll start with the foundational reason: I believe the piles of evidence showing the SAT is a poor indicator of my intellect and ability.

This philosophical reason is coupled with a few practical ones. As you can see precisely detailed in the enclosed documents, I’ve led a rich, packed life: My GPA is high; I work; I played two sports; I’m involved with volunteer groups in and out of school. With my schedule, it was tough to justify devoting time to test prep, an activity I believe is unrelated to my personal/intellectual development. Even spending evenings studying sample questions on the Web seemed hard to justify to me in lieu of other, more productive activities. (Please note among my hobbies that I have listed “avid reader”; I’m into a book every night!)

Also, I must admit that my family is not wealthy. Paying for inherently meaningless activities is not in our budget.

I do know that while inherently meaningless to me, the SAT means something to others. You, for instance, may use my score to determine if I can join your school. I don’t mean to insult you.

I was reminded of this pressure over the past few months, because hanging on my refrigerator is a letter from a nice person who runs a company specializing in “personalized tutoring” for the SAT (and ACT). I will not share the company name because I think the company does offer a well-intended service. In its letter, the company says that students who utilize its services see an average gain on their SAT of 178 points. Some students’ scores go up as much as 470 points.

These are indeed notable increases! Each day, I would see that letter and wonder. But one day, as I re-read it (it mysteriously contained no pricing data), the number 178 leaped out at me. Aha! A compromise! I now ask a simple thing of you:

Add 178 points to my score, so my SAT becomes MMM+178.

You may think I’m crazy, but, c’mon, I would easily get that average 178 if I had the money and time. In fact, I’m negotiating poorly. Based on my transcript, support letters, resume, back-up cv, and (hopefully) this letter, you see I am no average guy; if I took advantage of that service, I would do way better than +178.

Please consider this letter, with the sworn statement below, as a replacement for the money that my colleagues’ parents have used to buy 178 SAT points. SAT prep classes do not improve my knowledge of subjects, the world, or myself. They only help me in the hermetically sealed world of the SAT.

In closing, I do recognize that I may hurt your school “rankings” with my minus-178 SAT score. If I may be so bold, could I suggest that you accept others who will swear that they didn’t prep for the SAT — relying instead only on the good training of their schools, families, and lives — and create a new metric showing the remarkable success your institution cultivates in those like us? I think you might demonstrate, by showing how similar the happiness and success of your students and graduates are to those from other schools, that your institution stands out.

In fact, based on our performance, you might even in four years advertise that your education is 178 points better than your peer institutions!

Sworn statement: I, Scott Warnock, hereby attest that I did not participate in any test preparation activities for the SAT.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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3 Responses to “The college admissions essay I’d write if I could”

  1. I SO hate it when you’re SO right. Well done as always.

  2. Scott, I don’t know how it happened, but I took no SAT prep classes (did they even have them in the late ’60s? I know they had vocabulary books based on the SATs and we even used one of them in one of my English classes to enhance our vocabulary–although they did NOT have “plethora”).

    When I was being interviewed by the head of admissions at a school I very much wanted to go to (Haverford), at the end, as my father had told me to, I asked him what chance he thought I had of getting it. He said we hadn’t talked any numbers, so he guessed my high school grades (mostly Bs, an occasional A and an occasional C), then he guessed my SAT scores–lower to mid-600s. Unfortunately, he was 100 points too low.

    His jaw dropped. He said something like, “Something’s not right here.”

    I don’t know what that was. Maybe I was just a very good SAT taker, and a little less motivated to earn the top grades in the classes. In any case, I never made it off the wait list to Haverford, and I think I benefitted from going to a school that had women as well as men (Haverford was all-male in those days).


  3. Am I a total nerd for wanting to take the current SATs? I might need a prep course though. It’s been too long but as evil as they are, I’m wired for standardized tests…

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