New SAT Adversity Score: How Does it Impact College Admissions?

College Board, the company or agency that administers the official SAT test, announced in May around this new addition of “Adversity Score” on their test results. These scores would only be available and seen by the colleges and not by the applicants. This has caused a lot of confusion among students and parents. The media is also divided if this is a good progress or and “adverse” progress on the College Board’s platform to help students and college admission teams with the admission process.

The new “Adversity Score” is an attempt by the college board to normalize a student’s performance relative to their actual peer group of students with same school area, their access to study help, access to resources and quality of teachers. As we all know, the education environment and help is a critical component of a student’s ability to perform and do well in these tests.

None of us can deny this fact as we all tend to invest in our children’s education by admitting them to schools with good quality teachers, resources and environment. This is one of the reasons we also spend more of our wallet on providing them tutoring, online classes and buying books. Hence, the College Board is not incorrect in trying to normalize a student’s performance against their “actual” peer group compared to a score that is measured in percentile against all the test takers.

In today’s world of Data Science, ML, BI etc., the agency is trying to do what other companies in areas of credit financing, services etc. are trying to achieve too. However, it does raise the question if this new score will harm or help the student in their applications.

The basic objective of the Adversity Score is to capture students’ (SAT takers) social and economic background. There has been a lot of outrage and criticism from the media. Here are a few thoughts from the Stoodnt team on this new score and how it may or may not impact any student’s application to the most competitive schools.

SAT’s New Adversity Score

1. What is this new “SAT Adversity Score” and how will it be calculated?  

This score takes into consideration two important elements in its calculation a) Neighborhood measure comprised of income, family structure, housing, educational attainment, and the likelihood of being a victim of a crime b) High school measure comprised of income, family structure, housing, and educational attainment. There are about 30+ variables the agency will look at, some public from sources such as NCES, and others from the school to come to this assessment. Higher the adversity score, better it is for a student who scores well in the SAT test. High Test scores with high adversity score show that a student was able to perform well irrespective of the adversity he or she may have faced within the educational surrounding and environment.

Is seeing a student’s adversity score together with their SAT score a bad thing? Not really! Many pundits in the media etc. are raising their voice against this change and even crying loud for this to be discriminatory. It definitely is true on both sides, but having some more information about a student’s environment is not a bad thing. The next question is to answer how colleges can use this score in their decision.

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2. Will this “Adversity Score” impact my admission chances?

U.S. Colleges already use a subjective method of admitting students in the program. The decisions are not made on any one factor, but a mix of number of factors such as a student’s grades in high school, rigor of courses taken during these years, progression from 9th to 11th grade, SAT/ACT scores, subject tests scores, AP scores, Letter of Recommendations, extra-curricular, Essays etc.

Among all these factors, a student’s SAT/ACT scores have the least amount of weight. many International students and parents think otherwise. A number of colleges may not even take the SAT score in consideration for admission. The colleges may still use it more for scholarship decisions.

Secondly, all of the top colleges already use a number of factors such as a school’s reputation, context, student’s adversity, environment, school’s past record, diversity, ex-students college performance etc. to make a decision on a student’s application. Sometime these factors may help a student’s application and sometime they may hurt.

So it is tough for anyone to predict if the new “Adversity Score” may make much difference in how colleges view a student’s application. It may just give some more information to a college admission team or put this information in front of them in a simple manner through the dashboard.


In summary, the “adversity score” just provides some more contextual information and data to the college admission teams. It definitely makes it more automated and convenient for admission teams to have data at their fingertips, but it may not make a much different in the outcome given the subjective nature of admission process at most of the top colleges, especially the private colleges such as Ivy Leagues, Liberal Arts colleges, and the top public universities.

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