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SAT, ACT scores more predictive of academic success at Ivy Plus schools than high school grades, new study suggests

Study builds on past findings that wealthy applicants have advantage in Ivy Plus admissions

A study released this January by research group Opportunity Insights found that standardized test scores — such as SAT and ACT scores — are more predictive of academic success at Ivy Plus colleges than high school grades.

The study — led by Professor and Chair of Economics John Friedman — suggested that ACT and SAT scores “may have more value for admissions processes than previously understood” and comes as the University’s Ad Hoc Committee on Admissions Policies reconsiders Brown’s test-optional admissions, legacy and early decision policies.

Friedman, a member of the committee, released a separate study with Opportunity Insights last summer concluding that wealthy applicants have an advantage in the admission process at Brown and other Ivy Plus universities.

The latest study reached three main conclusions. First, students with higher SAT and ACT scores also tend to achieve higher college GPAs. Second, high school GPAs are poor predictors of college GPAs. Lastly, students with similar standardized test scores also have similar college GPAs, even if they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds.


Researchers also found that students who did not submit test scores had “relatively lower college GPAs” compared to those who did submit test scores.

Friedman confirmed in an interview with The Herald that the University’s Ad Hoc Committee has looked at the study in their deliberations.

According to Friedman, the data does not “support the concern that test scores are artificially inflated for students from more well resourced backgrounds,” he said. Instead, he suggested, differences in test scores were a reflection of broader disparities in education.

Others have made a similar point. Raj Chetty, a Harvard economics professor and researcher with Opportunity Insights, said in a New York Times article that the most recent study “strengthens the argument that the disparities in SAT scores are a symptom, not a cause, of inequality in the U.S.” 

Nick Lee ’26, who co-leads the admissions and access committee under the student group Students for Educational Equity, shared appreciation for Friedman’s research but said that “looking at this study singularly will not provide a holistic take.” 

“Many of the students who can prepare for these tests are also the same students who had proper academic resources and tutoring available throughout their life,” Lee wrote in an email to The Herald. “While standardized test scores can be predictive in college GPA, these tests still actively screen out lower-income and under-resourced students who were unable to prepare for them in the same manner.”

“Students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds generally achieve higher test scores,” Lee added, referencing a 2013 study which concluded that family income has substantial impacts on SAT scores.

The University has maintained a test-optional policy for undergraduate applicants since the 2020–21 application cycle. 

The new Opportunity Insights study is not the first to investigate how high school GPAs and standardized test scores can predict college performance.

A 2020 study by University of Chicago researchers found that “unweighted high school GPAs were stronger and more consistent predictors of college graduation than ACT scores,” wrote Elaine Allensworth, one of the study’s authors, in an email to The Herald. 


This study differed considerably from Friedman’s. While Friedman’s research focused on students attending Ivy Plus colleges, the University of Chicago study considered “a general population of students going to high school before they are selected into college,” wrote Allensworth. 

Allensworth expressed concern over Opportunity Insight’s finding that “high school GPA does a poor job of predicting academic success in college.” At Ivy Plus schools, students frequently have almost identical — often near-perfect — high school GPAs, making it difficult to use high school GPAs to predict college performance, she explained. 

According to Lee, SEE advocates for a permanent test-optional policy at Brown but not for eliminating standardized tests from the admissions process outright.

“Using scores in a nuanced way that recognizes their limitations can still have a place in admissions, but they do not need to be mandatory,” Allensworth told The Herald. “Making them mandatory risks that admissions officers will heavily rely on them for decision-making.”

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Clarification: A previous version of this article said that the University’s Ad Hoc Committee used the new study’s findings in their deliberations. The committee looked at the study during their deliberations. 

Owen Dahlkamp

Owen Dahlkamp is a Section Editor overseeing coverage for University News and Science & Research. Hailing from San Diego, CA, he is concentrating in political science and cognitive neuroscience with an interest in data analytics. In his free time, you can find him making spreadsheets at Dave’s Coffee.

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