Shawn Berry's SAT Preparation

Learn 1-1 from the world's foremost SAT expert

Shawn Berry

University Admissions

The essence of strategy is two-fold: (1) you look forward in your life to determine what you want, then (2) you reason backwards to determine what steps you need to take to get there. In 'The Top 50 Universities', we looked forward and determined that you want to earn a Top 50 Bachelor's degree. Now we reason backwards to determine how you get there.

Most Top 50 Universities accept 10—30% of applicants and reject 70—90%. Although people complain about all the studying, the simple reality is that once you are accepted, you are 80—90% likely to graduate. So remember this: your #1 obstacle to earning a Bachelor's degree from a Top 50 University is simply being admitted. Chart 1

So how do Top 50 University admissions officers decide whom to accept and whom to deny?

Chart 2 . 1/3 of Top 50 University admissions is your high school academic record — course rigor, grades, teacher references, and AP/IB test scores. The high school record once constituted 1/2 of admissions, but the false praise of grade inflation (twice as many A's) has made each 'A' half as valuable; further, many teacher references are so gushingly positive that they lack credibility. To be a quality applicant to a Top 50 University, you must take rigorous courses and rank in the Top 10% of your class.

Another 1/3 of admissions are extra-curriculars (ECs): academic awards, research activity, publications, college courses, work history, athletics, performing arts, political activity, community service, and demonstrated leadership. This category also includes your personal statement, legacy status, minority status, etc. ECs have risen in value as ambitious students spend 20 hours a week in these activities during the school year and 40 hours a week during the summer. My advice: excel at the state level in two different endeavors; don't be a 'Jack of all trades, master of none'.

The final 1/3 of admissions is standardized tests, specifically the SAT (Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing) and the SAT subject tests (2 or 3 subjects of your choice). Whether you apply from California or Connecticut, the SAT provides the only directly comparable and impartial assessment of your analytical abilities. Many Top 50 Universities expect you to average 700+ across these SAT tests.

Here is how some Top 50 Universities use SAT scores: Chart 3 .