Did you know that Ivy League colleges (and many others) routinely REJECT students with perfect test scores?

It happens more often than you think. Here’s a quote from a New York Times article in 2007:

Harvard turned down 1,100 student applicants with perfect 800 scores on the SAT math exam. Yale rejected several applicants with perfect 2400 scores on the three-part SAT, and Princeton turned away thousands of high school applicants with 4.0 grade point averages. Needless to say, high school valedictorians were a dime a dozen.

Then there’s the case of Michael Wang, an Asian-American student whose parents are Chinese immigrants. This 2015 article from the Guardian explains Wang’s story:

Michael Wang was ranked second at James Logan high school in California, on GPA. He had a perfect score on his ACT, and a near-perfect score on his SAT. He was a national districts qualifier on the debate team. At the AMC 12 – a nationwide mathematics competition – he placed first in the state.

He performed with the San Francisco opera company, and sang in a choir that performed at Barack Obama’s first inauguration. He volunteered his free time to tutor underprivileged children.

So when all the Ivy League schools to which he applied rejected him out of hand, he was, understandably, upset.

“I felt I was unfairly treated,” he told the Guardian. “Of course receiving rejection letters was very sad, but at the same time I felt anger.”

Shaan Patel was also rejected from his dream school despite having a perfect SAT score. He went on to appear on Shark Tank to build an SAT prep business. Business Insider explains:

With a perfect SAT score, Shaan Patel thought he’d be able to get into one of his dream schools in the Ivy League.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but Patel’s fine with it.

Instead, he’s been able to build a thriving SAT-prep startup that got him on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and let him strike a deal with Mark Cuban.

Elizabeth Dankowski, writing for The Huffington Post, considers the reasons why a perfect score might work AGAINST students when it comes to college admissions:

The point is that with the acceptance rates at the very top schools plummeting to 5, 6, 7 percent, there is no way that old formula of perfect grades and test scores and a million time-intensive extracurriculars is going to work anymore.

The truth is that if you follow this formula, you end up spending so much time trying to reach perfect grades and test scores that you have no time to develop what’s unique about you. Sadly, next to every other high-achieving student, you’re actually going to look average if all you have is strong grades and test scores and the usual extracurriculars.

Why Are Some Students with Perfect SAT or ACT Scores REJECTED from Colleges and Universities?

Some people believe racism (or racial quotas) is a factor in colleges’ decision to reject students. Wang actually filed a lawsuit against Harvard University, alleging that Asian-American applicants, “because of their race, have been unfairly rejected by Harvard College because of such unlawful use of race in the admissions process.”

Others point to the impossible position college admissions officers are put in: should they simply admit the people with the best possible test scores and grades and not take other factors into account, such as extracurricular success, community service, socio-economic status, field of study, athletic prowess, personal character, and so on? Many colleges have statements on their web sites that explain the admissions process is designed to create a diverse student body of all backgrounds, interests, etc. As a result, many students who perform better “on paper” are passed over in favor of students who excel in other areas or might make the college or university more diverse.

Advice to Students and Parents

Who are the winners in this whole fiasco? Colleges. They’re continuing to make money. And the losers? Students. Even if you’re accepted to the college of your dreams, chances are you’ll graduate with considerable debt.

Don’t take it personally if you’re rejected. Don’t take it as a judgment on YOU. Remember that even WITH perfect scores, the college admissions game is HARDLY guaranteed to go in your favor.

If you ARE accepted, stay humble.

What can students and parents do? Students can strive for their best academically, extracurricularly, and in their lives. Find a passion, serve others, learn how to articulate your passion to the world. But remember that college admissions is hardly guaranteed. Cast a wide net and apply to more schools than you think you need to apply to.

With so many students rejected who HAVE perfect scores, the chances of getting in WITHOUT a perfect score might worry you. Don’t let it. Simply take SAT or ACT prep lessons and classes, do your best, take practice tests, and take the test several times. Then let go!

What is meant to happen for you will, so long as you are motivated, passionate, and humble. If you’re rejected from the college of your dreams, it will only stop you from achieving your dreams if you let it. Focus on what you can control, and make it happen for yourself!

If you’re in need of some inspiration, watch this video of Alibaba founder and billionaire Jack Ma explaining his persistence after being rejected by Harvard a total of 10 times:


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That’s it! For more SAT and ACT prep tips, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 ACT or SAT prep tutoring to help you with the college application process? Want to join an SAT or ACT group class? Contact us today!  We’re perfect-scoring tutors with years of experience helping students achieve the SAT and ACT scores they need to make their dreams a reality!


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