There’s no doubt that a good SAT score will give you a leg up in college admissions, but is this advantage justified? It’s been argued, especially in recent years, that SAT scores are not reliable predictors of success in college academics, the job world, and beyond.
In this article, I’ll explore these claims and see just how relevant your scores are to your future.
Do High SAT Scores Predict Future Academic Success?
The short answer is “not always.” SAT scores only account for 10 to 20 percent of the variation in first-year college GPAs, but this statistic is slightly misleading. Since most schools admit students who fall within a relatively small range of SAT scores, a student's performance on the SAT is less likely to predict large variations in GPA. If one college admitted students with SAT scores that were all over the map, the predictive value of the scores would likely be stronger.
Still, according to this study, high school GPA is a more accurate predictor of a student’s ultimate success in college than SAT scores. A student with average SAT scores and a high GPA is overall more likely to be successful in college than a student with high SAT scores and a GPA that’s on the lower side. Many students put a lot of effort into SAT prep, so scores can still be a strong indication of a student’s academic dedication. However, SAT scores represent the results of one test, whereas GPA represents the result of hundreds of tests. GPA usually provides a more complete and accurate picture of how students meet academic challenges.
Students with high SAT scores may have earned their scores through natural ability and a solid education, or they may have devoted a lot of time and effort to test preparation. If a high score is due to natural ability, it won’t necessarily mean that the student has the wherewithal to complete long-term assignments and think deeply and critically in the ways that college classes require. However, if the student did put a lot of time and effort into SAT prep, a high score may very well be indicative of serious dedication even if he or she has a low GPA.
The SAT can’t definitively predict the effort that a student is willing to put into academics or how he or she will respond to assignments that require extended effort and concentration. Many people with high SAT scores do go on to become academically successful, but this is usually because they also have the drive to succeed in school. They most likely earned their scores through hard work and maintained a high GPA in high school as well. Students with high GPAs and high SAT scores remain the most likely to end up successful in college.
If you have a low high school GPA but high SAT scores that you worked hard to earn, don’t let the overall trends affect your self-perception too much. High SAT scores may indicate that you have a lot of raw intelligence, you went to a great high school, you worked hard and studied a lot for the test, or some random combination of those factors. Scores can have very different origins, which means that they don’t automatically spell future academic success. They just make it a bit more likely!
Do High SAT Scores Predict Future Career Success?
The SAT can’t reliably measure perseverance, conscientiousness, or interpersonal skills. These are the traits that result in long-term success in virtually any career field. A high score may indicate that a student possesses some of these qualities (especially if they studied hard for it), but it's not a guarantee. Your score also can't always predict your ultimate level of education, which is a much better indicator of future career success and earning potential.
People with associate’s degrees earn less on average than people with bachelor’s degrees, and people with bachelor’s degrees earn less on average than people with master’s degrees. Your major also makes a big difference in your ultimate earnings. People who major in engineering or IT earn more on average than people who major in the humanities. There is a correlation between people who earn high SAT scores and people who strive to work in more competitive fields or earn more advanced degrees, but the SAT score alone doesn’t always predict success.
There are a few job fields with strict recruiting processes that require candidates to report their SAT scores. These include consulting, software engineering, and investment banking. Since these jobs are very competitive, employers use SAT scores as another way to weed out “less qualified” applicants. So yes, having a high SAT score can help you if you are planning on going through recruiting processes for these types of jobs, but if you don’t have other qualifications going for you, SAT scores can only get your so far.
The bottom line is that high SAT scores can start you on the path to a strong career, but to succeed long-term you'll have to possess other qualities that are valuable in the job world outside of the narrow set of skills that are tested.
Are People With High SAT Scores Ultimately Happier?
This is a tough one because it depends on how you define “happier”. Within the higher education system that’s currently in place, it’s a fact that high SAT scores will get you into more prestigious colleges, leading to more potential job prospects, and, depending on your major and how much education you get, a fulfilling career.
Since happiness is such a subjective measure, it’s difficult to say whether high SAT scores will lead to greater happiness in your life. If your happiness is tied up in academic achievement and attaining high levels of education, high SAT scores may propel you down a path to greater happiness. If these things aren’t as important to you, and you have other priorities like creating great art, having a family, or pursuing a career where academic achievement is less relevant, SAT scores won’t necessarily impact how happy you are. Some people with high SAT scores might be less happy because they’re never satisfied with what they do, no matter how outwardly successful they might look.
Getting a college education is a good start to a fulfilling life for most people, but if you have a 1500 SAT score and someone else has a 2000, you’ll both be able to get into college. After that point, it’s hard to tell which one of you will be happier in the long run. Your SAT score on its own can’t determine your destiny!
All in all, it would be inaccurate to say that SAT scores can directly predict success. High SAT scores will enable you to get into a selective school and can predict your GPA for the first year of college relatively well, but from then on your success may vary a lot depending on how driven you are. Overall, people with high SAT scores and low high school GPAs are likely to end up with low GPAs in college as well, and people with average SAT scores and impressive high school GPAs are likely to continue to get good grades in college. High SAT scores will give you a leg up in some competitive job markets, but they can’t necessarily predict how well you'll do long-term in your career.
The main thing to take away from this information is that high SAT scores help you get into college, but they don’t mean that you’re set for life. As I’ve said, a high score can mean different things depending on how you earned it. For some students, it’s indicative of hard work and prep over a long period of time, and for others it’s indicative of a natural aptitude for test taking and a strong high school education. If you pulled your high SAT score out of thin air, it might be less of a solid predictor of your ability to face academic struggles and work hard later in life. If you put in a lot of effort to earn a high score, it’s more likely that you’ll end up doing well in college and beyond because you have the discipline to overcome intellectual challenges.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.