The SAT Adversity Score: What Students Need to Know

The College Board’s new adversity index has been on the minds of everyone during the past few days and I’ve received many calls from concerned parents wondering how this new SAT “score” will affect their children’s admissions chances.

The College Board claims the adversity index will offer admissions officers more context, but many are skeptical

When questioned about their motivation, research, and data, the College Board consistently protests their transparency. But about the adversity index they are being downright opaque. Consequently, much about the adversity index remains unknown. However, this is what we know right now:

1.  The College Board’s adversity index is not new. The system has been in use by about 50 colleges and universities, both private and public, during past few years. What is new is the College Board’s announcement that the adversity index would be expanded and be made available to about 150 colleges this year. The adversity index may be available to all colleges and universities by 2020.

2.  The College Board produced the adversity index based on information stored in databases it holds about almost every high school in the country. This year, the databases were expanded to include information about neighborhoods. The underlying premise used by the College Board to justify the creation of the adversity index concerns the lack of diversity in most high schools and neighborhoods. This premise is supported by demographic research.

3.  The factors used to calculate a student’s adversity index include

  • The proportion of students at school eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch
  • Statistically driven information about housing instability in an area
  • The percentage of students who go to college from a particular high school


4.  Each college with access to the adversity index is free to use the information or disregard it.

5.  Some admissions officers have found the index useful; others find it limited.


6.  The College Board refuses to share students’ adversity scores with them.


7.  The College Board has been under fire for years because wealthy students consistently earn higher scores on the SAT than do middle class kids who, in turn, generally earn higher scores than kids from lower-income families. This fact, along with the fact that a disproportionate number of low-income families in America are black and Latinx, is one of the many reasons we see a growing number of colleges jettisoning the standardized test requirement for applicants.

8.  The College Board has been losing market share to the ACT for years.

My take:

Those of you who already know me have probably already guessed my take on the College Board’s new gambit. While the adversity index may have some potential, at the moment, its greatest value lies in the way it serves as a tacit admission by the College Board that the test is unfair.

Last thoughts:

  1. Instead of running up hill in the sand, perhaps the College Board should focus their efforts on designing a more equitable test?
  2. If colleges and college admissions officers are truly concerned about diversity and the SAT’s inherent biases, why don’t they drop the SAT (and ACT) requirement?

3. Finally, at the risk of sounding cynical, one can’t help but wonder if the College Board’s real motivation might have more to do with declining revenue than diversity and equality. After all, this is the company that claims the SAT has been cleansed of the negative gender stereotypes that have historically interfered and continue to interfere with girls’ performance on the test.*

* The SAT can present special challenges to girls.

If you want to gender check your test behavior and performance, call me. I’m always ready to help you!

Ready to beat the SAT or ACT? Call me! I’m always ready to help you.

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.