Nicholas Lemann said in a PBS Frontline interview, “A good school puts you in the way of more opportunity.” Since getting to a good school now involves standardized tests, the modern motto might just as well be “a good SAT score puts you in the way of more opportunity.”
Colleges value standardized tests more than ever. Every once in a while you hear about a college announcing that it is placing less importance on the SAT. (The few that dropped SAT altogether got big press.) But quietly, over the last 15 years, more and more colleges have EMPHASIZED high test scores.
College admissions offices compete with one another for applicants. The most prominent survey, US News, makes SAT score a huge category in ranking the schools. Incoming GPA is not ranked in the US News survey. This means that students with high GPAs often lose in the admissions game to students with lower GPAs but higher SAT or ACT scores.
Admissions offices also compete by offering the strongest candidates money, and the last 15 years have seen the flowering of MERIT-BASED SCHOLARSHIPS. Prior to 1990, scholarship money was awarded only to athletic recruits and to students with high financial need. Today, almost every competitive 4-year college awards scholarships to entice academic talent, and the assessment thereof is the SAT / ACT score.
Athletic recruiters use the SAT more than ever. NCAA requirements propel coaches to leave promising recruits off their lists if they do not have strong scores.
Finally, the brave new world of employment screening has already infiltrated high schools. Some employers are demanding SAT scores from job applicants. Even seasoned professionals who took their SATs in the 1980s are being asked for their SAT scores.
Conclusion: students with high aspirations should not overlook the importance of a good SAT / ACT score. Schools should provide direct SAT coaching, because a good course can help students to 200+ point improvements, which can significantly open opportunities.