SAT Will Give Students “Adversity Score” — What Does That Mean?

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Founded in 1926, the SAT has long been a significant factor in the college admissions process. Not only do SAT scores affect how likely a student is to gain entry to a particular school, but they may also determine which individuals qualify for merit-based aid and scholarship money. While the test has undergone numerous changes over the years, including the introduction of the new SAT in 2016, the most recent adjustment is causing a great deal of controversy among students, parents, and college admissions departments alike. According to the CollegeBoard, the company that administers the SAT, the test is adding an adversity score to better reflect a student’s educational and socioeconomic background.

Understanding the SAT Adversity Score

College admissions departments have long struggled to determine how to factor wealth and income inequality into their acceptance decisions. After all, not all applicants have access to the same advantages with regard to teachers, classroom size, test preparation, and other factors impacting success. With that in mind, many admissions officials recognize that it’s unfair to evaluate students based on test scores alone.


The SAT adversity score is a number that gives college admissions departments a sense of what students have had to overcome in order to achieve their goals. Ranging from 1 to 100, the score takes into account 15 factors including neighborhood crime rate, poverty level, high school quality, and more. Among other sources, the CollegeBoard drew from Harvard economist Raj Chetty’s research on the effect of neighborhood on lifetime earnings when creating its evaluation tool.


It’s worth noting that students and parents won’t see the adversity score reflected in their test results. Instead, this number will only be available to college admissions departments.

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Impact of the SAT Adversity Score

Despite the fact that families won’t be able to view this measure, opinions about the new SAT adversity score are sharply divided. Officials at Yale, which has been test-driving the new tool, note that the institution has almost doubled the number of students admitted from low-income backgrounds. The Ivy League university’s dean of undergraduate admissions, Jeremiah Quinlan, speaks highly of the tool, noting that “it has been a part of the success story to help diversify our freshman class.”


While many college officials are excited about the new score, viewing it as a helpful tool in determining a student’s potential to succeed in higher education, not all people are on board with the change. In particular, some more affluent families worry that the adversity score will put their children at a disadvantage in the admissions process. Critics argue that wealthy students whose homes are located in less prosperous neighborhoods may have an undeserved advantage. Additionally, the fact that race and ethnicity are not included in the factors determining a student’s adversity score is drawing strong criticism.


The adversity score is part of the Environmental Context Dashboard, which is currently available at 50 colleges across the U.S., including Yale and Florida State. The CollegeBoard says that the dashboard will be available at more institutions starting next year.


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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
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A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.