Grading Your Advantage: Adversity Scores


Did you have a challenging upbringing? Live in a “rough” part of town? Well, these elements of your background will now play more concretely into your college applications.

In other words, College Board will soon be stamping a grade on your advantages and disadvantages. Known as an “adversity score,” this number will land in the hands of college admissions officers as a sort of caveat to your SAT score.

This new adversity score is an effort by College Board to contextualize your SAT score. The adversity score will comprise of 31 factors, including neighborhood crime and poverty rate, as well as the performance of your high school. The adversity score will not affect the SAT score directly; your 1600 won’t suddenly become a 1300 due to a high income, for example. Rather, it is a separate score that the admissions officers will see with the SAT score. Surprisingly, you will not have access to it.

The adversity score is a push towards a more balanced approach to the college admissions process. And like most pushes for quantifying subjective circumstances, it comes with pros and cons.

Admissions officers focusing only on numbers (i.e., the SAT Reading/Writing and Math scores) while acting indifferent towards a student’s background is a flawed concept. Studies have shown that admissions chances increase 30% for recruited athletes, 28% for underrepresented minorities, and 20% for legacies. But for low-income families, there are no distinct boosts. The adversity score is College Board’s way of balancing the scale.

For the nation’s most selective institutions, the imbalance of advantages and disadvantages has persisted for more than 20 years. Moreover, Anthony Carnevale from Georgetown University found that low-income students are the same ones who score, on average, 784 points lower on the SAT compared to the most advantaged students.

Socioeconomic standing is admittedly a complicated factor: it can’t be easily quantified, and it can’t be easily defined. But the adversity score brings it to the forefront and at least acknowledges non-academic advantages and disadvantages. Following that logic, some say this rough benchmark is better than no benchmark at all.

Despite the good intentions behind it, the adversity score is not without its controversies. The 31 factors of the score are publicly known; thus, the adversity score can be gamed. Some theorize that if elite academies establish satellites in disadvantaged neighborhoods, then enrolling students in these satellites would simply be a play for a better adversity score. Heather Macdonald reminds us of a study from the University of California, which found that “race predicts SAT scores better than class,” and thus suggests that the adversity score is a means to fulfill racial quotas.

The critics claim that the adversity score panders to those seeking diversity at colleges; the supporters assert that the acknowledgement of disadvantage is better than none at all. As of yet, there are no clear answers to the varying pros and cons. Perhaps the adversity score will simply serve to restate the obvious: an affluent applicant’s zip code at the top of their application is no large secret.

One thing remains for certain. The SAT, with or without an adversity score, is a significant portion of your college application. But, it is not the sole determining factor: GPA, class rank, extracurriculars--all of these play a heavy hand. Fortunately, B2A can provide an outline for navigating these complexities. Our engaging classes teach you how to perform your best on the SAT. Our hands-on counseling services help you present yourself in your most genuine and optimal angle for the admissions officers. Basically, at B2A, we can help you get where you want, regardless of adversity score!

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