LEADING Strategies

The Value of SAT Scores and High School Grades in the Selection of Honors Program Candidates from the Perspective of Honors Students and Graduates

Admission to honors programs is competitive and typically relies heavily on the applicant’s high school grades and SAT scores. Research shows that of the two criteria, the stronger predictor of performance in an honors curriculum is the high school record, which would imply that grades should receive the greater emphasis. We surveyed current students (109 respondents) and the graduates (203 respondents) of an honors program at a private university to determine their views about how high school grades and SAT scores should be treated in the honors admission decision. The majority in both groups indicated stronger support for a minimum high school GPA (74% of the current students and 72% of the alumni) than for a minimum SAT (49% of the students and 43% of the alumni). Similarly, a majority (74% of students, 67% of alumni) agreed that in the admissions process, a high GPA score should be allowed to override a nonqualifying SAT score. Conversely, only a minority (36% of students, 23% of alumni) supported the proposition that a good SAT score should be permitted to override a poor high school GPA. In cases where a discrepancy exists between the two criteria, the overwhelming view (84% of the students and 90% of the alumni) was that the high school GPA should receive the greater weight.

A two-step cluster analysis of the five items revealed the presence of two segments in both samples. The major differentiator between the two clusters was opinion about whether a high SAT score should be allowed to override a nonqualifying GPA. Since the defining feature of each cluster was whether or not good SAT scores should be allowed to override poor high school grades, we explored the relationship of opinion on this issue to motivation to enroll in an honors program and the perceived personality of the typical honors student. Surprisingly, very few of these items correlated to respondents’ position on this matter, and even the significant correlations were small in magnitude. The survey showed that irrespective of opinion about the SAT overriding GPA, honors students’ motivation to enroll in an honors program rests mainly on wanting to be with students who share both their ability and work ethic. In terms of personality, the typical honors student is viewed by honors participants themselves as someone who is more likely than the non-honors student to be intellectually curious, highly motivated, possessing good study habits, and having a tendency to be compulsively driven to work hard. On the other hand, honors participants consider the typical honors student to be less likely than the non-honors student to be extraverted, social, athletic, and to enjoy working in teams.

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