Recent studies have indicated that students with lower test scores than the broader applicant pool can gain admission to schools by taking advantage of certain anomalies in the process. While we’ve long recognized that colleges held different admissions standards for recruited athletes compared to the rest of their pool, it was not until recently that studies began to indicate that there are other such criteria for which admissions officers are willing to accept lower test scores.
Business Insider posted an article collecting data from three different studies which indicated that students applying to the same school from which one of their parents graduated had markedly higher odds of admission, or were admitted with lower SAT scores, compared to the broader applicant pool.
This trend persisted between both Tier-1 Schools and less selective institutions. Studies showed legacy students gaining admission with between 20 and 70 point weaker SAT scores than their non-legacy peers.
This leads us to recommendation 1: Apply to the schools your parents graduated from to gain an edge in the admissions process.
Field of Study
A recent article in the Ivy League Brown’s daily publication compared the SAT scores of Physical Science majors to those of other majors and found a sharp disparity between the two segments. The study revealed that 40% of Physical Science majors had SAT scores above 2300, compared to only 23% in non-Physical Science majors. This finding is not revolutionary, but a further affirmation of the continuation of a trend we had seen historically: different majors have different average test scores. A more thorough review of this split shows a broad range of average SAT scores ranging often 100 points between majors within the same school.
Thus recommendation 2 is: if you fear you might be on the cusp of admissions to your target school, apply to a major with lower average SAT scores, and consider switching majors once admitted—often an easier process.
Taking the above argument one step further, consider typical demographics within majors. We know that Computer Science tends to be a male-dominated field, while Nursing tends to be a female-dominated field. Applying to a major in which you are not a typical applicant can often increase your chances of admissions into the given school.
Recommendation 3: consider the average demographics within a given major, and consider running against the trend for better odds of admissions, as schools seek to have a diverse body of students not only at the school level, but at the major/sub-school level.
Know the odds, and increase your chances
Research your target school, its majors and demographics, and then examine how you can implement these three recommendations to better your odds of admissions, but recognize the limitations. Nothing will be as powerful as a strong and well-rounded application composed of a high GPA in challenging courses, a top-tier SAT or ACT score, and excellence in extra-curricular activities.