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What is the Academic Index? How is it Calculated?

If you want to get into one of the most selective schools in the country, then you should familiarize yourself with something called the Academic Index. Selective colleges use a variety of tools to help them make the right decision on each application, and the Academic Index is one of them. Read on to find out how this can affect your admissions chances!

What is the Academic Index?

The Academic Index is a tool that admissions officers at Ivy League and other selective colleges use to expedite the decision-making process. Using the information from a student’s transcript and test scores, the Academic Index is a calculation that combines a student’s overall academic performance into a single numerical score.


Admissions officers can then use this score to make a quick assessment as to whether a student has enough academic qualifications to be considered for admissions. It was initially created to ensure that student athletes were close enough to the average non-athlete applicant to be admitted (to make sure that academically unqualified students weren’t getting in solely on the basis of their athletic ability) but its use has expanded more generally.


The AI helps admissions officers make decisions on thousands of applications in a few short months. It’s not the only factor in an admissions decision, but it is an important one.

How is the Academic Index Calculated?

Most colleges don’t publicize how they calculate the Academic Index, but the nation got an inside look in Dr. Hernandez’s book A is for Admission. She explains how Dartmouth and many of the other Ivy League schools assigned Academic Index, though some of their calculations have since changed.


In general, the Academic Index takes into account three main factors:

  • Your GPA and/or class rank
  • Your SAT or ACT scores
  • Your SAT Subject test scores (if the school requires them)


The school then converts this information to a score on a 20 through 80 scale, with 80 being the best score (roughly equivalent to 4.0 unweighted GPA or a 1600 on the SAT). The three areas are added together to get an index score out of 240.


Beyond just calculating your Academic Index, many schools also categorize AI scores, such as Category 1, 2, and so on. While the exact number and structure of the categories differ, admissions officers know which categories they typically admit students from so they can concentrate their efforts on those applicants.

Why is the Academic Index Important?

Many top schools know that they generally admit students within a certain AI range, which roughly correlates to having top test scores and near-perfect GPAs. Because they know which AI scores correlate to the academic performance they are looking for, the harsh reality is that the AI is often used as a screening tool in admissions. If an applicant’s AI isn’t high enough, then it’s very likely that admissions officers won’t read the rest of the application.


That said, a high Academic Index doesn’t mean that you are a shoo-in. It just means that you are considered a serious applicant, and admissions officers will take the time to holistically review your application, including reviewing your transcript, essays, and extracurricular involvement. It’s still possible that you won’t be admitted with a high AI, but having a high AI makes it more likely for you to be admitted.


Although Ivy League schools pioneered the AI, many other top schools use a variant of the AI in their own admissions process. If you are considering applying to a selective school, then understanding the importance of the Academic Index will help you set realistic expectations about your chances of admission.

Wrapping It Up

Remember that a high AI score is strongly correlated to high test scores and a high GPA. Insofar as you control your test scores and your GPA, you have control over what your AI score will be. If you want to be as competitive as possible in college admissions, you’ll need to put in the effort to make sure that your academic profile is strong.


For information about how to strengthen your academic profile, check out these posts:


What is Actually a Good GPA for College?

What is Class Rank and Why is it Important?

How to Get a Perfect 1600 Score on the SAT

What’s the Highest ACT Score Possible


Want to know how your GPA impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

Short Bio
Gianna Cifredo is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she majored in Philosophy. She has six years of higher education and test prep experience, and now works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and is a proud cat mom.