Bribery Scandals, College Debt, Adversity Score, Oh my!

Posted by Neal Schwartz on May 29, 2019

                   college age diversity

Right on the heels of the College Bribery Scandal is the SAT Adversity Score.  Just when parents are absorbing the meaning of the college admissions missteps, there appears to be a new concern.

What does an adversity score mean for my kids?

What is it, and should I care?


Adversity Score chart

The College Board recently announced their Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD) as a new admissions tool.  It includes information on a student’s neighborhood and high school.  The College Board quickly pointed out that the term adversity score was coined by the media and not by them.  It was designed to provide admission officers with better context about the student’s school environment.  It also shows how a student’s SAT compares with other students at their school.

For those who typically have a geographic disadvantage due to tough neighborhoods and questionable public schools, the prospect of a “fairer” way to be noticed is fantastic.  If a student scores 400 points higher than their peer group, that is worth something.  If just measured against a national ranking, that same student might be denied and forgotten. 

adversity chart 3

Adversity chart 2

For those who live in an affluent area with great schools, the initial reaction is surprising.  From the emails I have read from the more entitled communities, there has been an initial backlash. The concern is that coming from an affluent area will result in a low adversity score and hurt a strong student’s admission chances. But parents shouldn’t be so quick to react.

What unsubstantiated conclusions from fear, uncertainty, and doubt, can be drawn?

  1. If it was difficult for top celebrities to get their kids into college without bribing, it must be tough to get the best kids into the better schools.
  2. If my kid has a low adversity score, that will hurt their chances of admission.

I am fortunate to have two perspectives: I work with some of the brightest and most affluent students in a wealthy area, while also volunteering with equally smart and engaging students who live in a tough city environment.  The college essays about travel and fulfilling life experiences, versus those that talk about getting robbed, shot or tending to younger siblings while parents work two jobs, tell very different stories about very different backgrounds.

The students who have demonstrated excellence, academic curiosity, and are likely future college contributors, will still get into the schools that best fit them.  Those who have risen above the norm, with more environmental handicaps, will now be recognized as a potential student, rather than being off the radar screen.

This holistic and realistic view of a student’s standing has merit, and it can benefit both the affluent and the less fortunate. The college I attended had a relatively small diversity factor, but it was big enough for me to meet someone from one of the worst inner-city New York areas at the time (Bedford Stuyvesant).  It was because of Bobby that I was able to learn about myself, while at the same time gain a great friend and some perspective about my place in the world.  Bobby was on the committee for picking the student graduation speakers.  I was far from valedictorian status, but I wound up winning the contest and speaking at our graduation.  I remember my visit to his apartment in the housing project, meeting his mom behind a multitude of locks on the door. This time, I was the white minority target in my walk to and from his apartment. For those moments, I knew what it was like to be different.  I also remember his trips to my house in the burbs and his joy in just hanging out on a lawn chair.  Bobby helped me out, and I will never forget what he did.  Fast forward to my corporate years and the ability to relate, interact and understand customers and peers from around the country and around the world, which was invaluable.  Bobby benefited too.  He became a successful dentist.  For both of us, the college and the community turned out to be a win/win.


In summary, I think the adversity score is a great thing.   It will better prepare students for the world as it is and will continue to be.   

There will be much more written about this adversity wrinkle in the weeks and months ahead.


To Do: Suggestions for the Summer:

HS Juniors –
Develop College Activities Plan, Review Colleges, Put together a project plan for College Application 

HS Sophs –
College Activities Plan, Schedule SAT-ACT Prep for the summer

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Topics: college prep, college process, SAT/ACT, college scandal, college cheating scandal, college bribery scandal, SAT prep, adversity SAT score, operation varsity blues, environmental context dashboard, SAT adversity score, college board


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