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SAT rolls out new ‘adversity score’ to level the playing field in college admissions

The SAT has made waves recently with the announcement that students will be assigned what’s being called an ‘adversity score’ in addition to their test scores. The adversity score will not be made available to students and will only be visible to college admissions officers.

This new score comes following increased scandals surrounding the college admission process. After actresses Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman were indicted in federal court for their involvement in an extensive college admission scam, many parents and students were left outraged at the ease students of a wealthier background have in obtaining college admission.

But what precisely is an ‘adversity score’? The SAT describes the score as a measurement of the social and economic landscape between applicants, something that a traditional application might not always show.

David Coleman, the President of the College Board, shed some light on why the score was put in place.

Seton Hall's Bethany Hall

“‘Merit is all about resourcefulness,’” Coleman said in an interview with The New York Times. “‘This is about finding young people who do a great deal with what they’ve been given. It helps colleges see students who may not have scored as high, but when you look at the environment that they have emerged from, it is amazing.’”

Some have heralded the change, saying that it will level the playing field for disadvantaged students.

Rachel Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, is supportive of the practice. In her article for The Atlantic, she identified the key fundamentals as to what makes the policy beneficial in her eyes.

Rose thinks that tests should be modeled off of another College Board administered exam, the AP test. “Most of us simply want to be measured on pure performance, not by comparing us with how smart the person next to us is,” Rose said in his contributor opinion piece for USA Today.

The change is also worrying college admission counselors across the country. Hafeez Lakhani, a college admissions coach in New York told the The New York Times that students are increasingly anxious about the process. “People are worried about never being good enough,” he said. This fear is especially prevalent amongst students trying to earn acceptance to the most competitive schools.

College entrance exams are no longer being required for admission to some universities, however. Approximately 950 colleges and universities no longer require or have deemphasized the importance of SAT and ACT scores with students’ applications, according to For many institutions, they prefer to learn more about a student’s personality rather than their test scores.

With more than 90% of millennials who graduate from high school choosing to attend college within 8 years of graduation according to a 2016 study by the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education,  the stakes for admission will grow even tighter as schools field more applicants. Whether or not the adversity score will prove effective will need to be seen over the years to come.

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Zachary Shaw can be reached at


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