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Point of View: Annual paper chase for college begins

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Every year this time, college-bound students and their parents are anxiously waiting for the SAT scores to come in the mail. Why? The scores could directly affect the students’ future.

If a student gets high scores in both English and math, he or she will have a better chance of entering a prestigious college with scholarships. A degree from a well-known college could mean a better future for a graduate.

If you graduate from one of the top 10 colleges, a prospective employer might fly you to the company’s headquarters for an interview, treat you like a distinguished guest and may offer you with an attractive salary. This is why parents and students pay so much attention to the Scholastic Assessment Test (formerly Scholastic Aptitude Test). If you want to attend a famous college, you also have to take an Achievement Test that’s related to your major.

As a parent of two children, this writer had gone through this anxiety twice. Many college admissions officials, when asked, would downplay the importance of SAT. They only say that they would accept applicants who had actively taken part in extracurricular activities and had a high grade-point average.

In fact, the SAT is the key criteria the admissions commission at each college uses in the selection of applicants. Of course, if you have special talents or you are an athletic star in high school, your chances of getting into a good college are high, even with below-average SAT scores. The total possible score is 1600 — 800 each for verbal and math. About 1.3 million high school students take the test each year. And a smaller number of students take the ACT (American College Test).

According to a survey on students who were admitted into colleges in 1999, white students, on the average, scored 93 points higher in verbal than blacks and 106 points higher in math.

Some parents of students who get low scores — and lately, some educators — question the fairness of this system. Should we discard this time-honored testing?

Traditionally, Asian and white students from middle-class families do well, while their black and Hispanic peers score lower. The IQ of Asian and white students is not necessarily higher than that of the blacks and Hispanics — the score gap really boggles the mind.

One factor may be that Asian parents consider children’s education a top priority. They think their children must excel academically or they can never gain a foothold in today’s competitive world. This does make a big difference. Many Asian parents send their children to SAT cram sessions or hire tutors to show them test-taking “secrets.” Many high school sophomores already take the preliminary SAT to get experience. Most take the full test in the junior year, and some even take it again in the first semester of their senior year.

If a student fails get into the college of choice, then he or she should set a goal for a better graduate school. Many corporations prefer prospective employees with a master’s degree. A son of a friend who graduated from a community college in Hammond, Ind., never thought he would become a top candidate sought by both Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He chose Stanford for his graduate work with full scholarship and is now an IBM executive in California. This shows that the name of the college doesn’t necessarily affect your final career goal if you work very hard as an undergraduate.

So don’t let rejection letters from schools of your choice discourage you.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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