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Perfect score + GPA applicants are actually pretty rare even at Harvard

SatchelSFSatchelSF 1372 replies13 threads Senior Member
edited August 2018 in Harvard University
Just a little tidbit to emerge from the Harvard Asian discrimination documents that runs counter to the seemingly prevailing wisdom on CC that tippy-top elite schools could "fill their classes" with perfect stats kids: for the class of 2019, which is the only data I have been able to find so far, in the entire admit pool, there were fewer than 1000 applicants at most who could have presented even the first component of "perfect stats":

SAT 1600 - 361 applicants (~1.0% of applicants)
ACT 36C - 625 applicants (~1.7% of applicants)

I assume that some portion of these are overlaps (maybe 10%, maybe a little more?), but even assuming each score in uniquely assigned to an applicant, Harvard couldn't even fill half of its admits with perfect scoring kids.

Adding constraints of perfect GPA will whittle that number down further, although perfect scaled GPAs are much more common (by a factor of at least 8x), and as high school grading is so inflated on average it can be assumed that a sizable percentage of perfect scorers also present perfect GPA (maybe 50-60%, maybe more?).

There's no need to get to perfect SAT subject test scores or APs, it's pretty clear that if we add those conditions there are not enough applicants in the entire pool to even fill a small size lecture class (that's just math), even if Harvard took every one of them.

No need to go into the whole "it's holistic" shtick/spiel - I get it, believe me, and probably a lot better than most people who tout it - I'm just offering this score tidbit for discussion.

As noted above, I assume the scores are single sitting. But Harvard says it only codes the "superscore." If these 986 scores in fact represent superscores, the actual number of single sitting perfect kids will be lower.

If these are (as I believe) single sitting scores, why is Harvard tracking these? Hmmm. I wonder if in its elusively mysterious criteria for Academic 1s on their effectively 1-4 rating scale (of which there are only about 100 applicants a year iirc), perfect single sitting scores are a component?

A lot more goes into admissions decisions than scores ("it's holistic" - again, I get it). But it's worth noting that admit rates for perfect score kids (SAT or ACT, not even including GPA) appear to hover somewhere above 30%, more than twice the admit rate of kids with scores even 50 SAT points lower (or equivalent ACT points - so much for the "threshold" idea?), and of course very far above average admit rates. No doubt perfect GPA+ACT/SAT rates are substantially higher than 30% - probably at least 40-50% I'd guess.

(Scores in themselves of course are not that important; the high admit rates for perfect scorers reflect the group's much higher average intelligence, which will be positively correlated with all the other factors that are important to schools; so, it's not that the scores get the kids in, it's more that the scores evidence their underlying excellence on many other important dimensions as well, again on average for the group.)

Data on number of perfect GPA, SAT and ACT applicants on p.12 here: https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/files/diverse-education/files/expert_report_rebuttal_as_filed_d._mass._14-cv-14176_dckt_000419_037_filed_2018-06-15.pdf

Data on admit rates by score on p.7 here: http://samv91khoyt2i553a2t1s05i-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Doc-421-145-Admissions-Part-II-Report.pdf

Note that these numbers come directly from Harvard sources, so they are as accurate as the competence of the adcoms will allow.
edited August 2018
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Replies to: Perfect score + GPA applicants are actually pretty rare even at Harvard

  • wertu12wertu12 56 replies0 threads Junior Member
    So once again perfect scores/gpa doesnt guarantee admission while plenty of students with SAT below 1500 get in
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  • makemesmartmakemesmart 1775 replies14 threads Senior Member
    Page 6 of the part II report is “enlightening”.
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  • WarriorJWarriorJ 31 replies0 threads Junior Member
    edited August 2018
    Since these records were from years before class 2020, the perfect SAT is 2400. If I recall correctly, there were approximately 500 perfect SAT scorers every year for old SAT, so 361 is a significant part of this group even after superscore, and the percentage of applicants having perfect SAT is really irrelevant.
    edited August 2018
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  • SatchelSFSatchelSF 1372 replies13 threads Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    Agreed that the percentage of applicants having perfect scores is only relevant to the theme that we often hear on cc: namely, that Harvard could "fill its class" with perfect stats kids.

    Yes, it was out of 2400, but Harvard internally uses an average scale up to 80. I was just converting to put it into current terms, and yes iirc there were typically about 400-600 2400 scores per year in the data I have seen.

    I have always suspected that schools are not being wholly truthful about superscoring, and I think this graph supports the idea that at least for some scores they do record the single sitting score. It would be difficult to manually look through all the data if there weren't a field somewhere that recorded the scores presented. Alternatively, of course, these perfects could be the result of superscoring, which would suggest that Harvard attracts a slightly lower percentage of perfect scoring applicants than the numbers indicate.

    It does seem that Harvard is not quite as popular among perfect ACT scorers (only 625 out of about 2000 true 36 scorers) as among perfect SAT scorers (361 out of, say, 550).
    edited August 2018
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  • JaneyMJaneyM 31 replies1 threads Junior Member
    While it may not literally be true that Harvard or any other "tippy-top" school could fill their classes with students who got perfect SAT/ACT scores, the bigger picture that is confirmed by these statistics is that admission is not highly likely even for "perfect scoring" students. Knowing that more than 2/3 of those "perfect scoring" students are being denied admission underscores the importance of having a balanced list of schools to explore and apply to that include some more likely to result in offers of admission. Admission to Harvard is not guaranteed to anyone regardless of how strong their academic record is--even if it is flawless.
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  • skieuropeskieurope 42310 replies8428 threads Super Moderator
    edited August 2018
    Perfect score + GPA applicants are actually pretty rare even at Harvard
    This should come as a surprise to nobody.
    It does seem that Harvard is not quite as popular among perfect ACT scorers (only 625 out of about 2000 true 36 scorers) as among perfect SAT scorers (361 out of, say, 550).
    Not surprising at all to me. SAT has traditionally been the test of choice for students on the East and West Coasts, and that cohort comprises ~55% of the Harvard student body. Most college students still attend college fairly close to home, even if the college is top-tier.
    edited August 2018
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  • collegedad13collegedad13 737 replies6 threads Member
    Having a perfect score doesn't make you the best candidate or even a desirable candidate. Some of them can be seen as one dimensional score grubbers who might not fit in at Harvard
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  • DeepBlue86DeepBlue86 1059 replies7 threads Senior Member
    I believe if you connect the dots in the expert reports (@Data10 has done this), you’ll find that ~1% of applicants get a “1” in any of the three non-athletic categories, ~6% get three “2”s, this ~7% accounts for ~58% of admits, and likely includes the overwhelming majority of admitted unhooked applicants. I’ll guess the remaining 42% of admits is divided among recruited athletes (7-9%), legacies not otherwise included who have two non-athletic “2”s and/or wealthy connected parents (10-15%), URMs who weren’t included in any of the above groups (I’ll guess 10-15%) and some combination of Dean’s/President’s List, facbrats and miscellaneous other institutional needs filling out the remainder. Does this sound way off to anyone?

    I’m going to guess that the ~100 academic “1”s include some perfect scorers, but that a lot of them are published authors/researchers or winners of national academic competitions who have less than a perfect score in the section of the SAT/ACT that doesn’t include their sphere of excellence.
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  • collegedad13collegedad13 737 replies6 threads Member
    @DeepBlue86 I generally agree with you but I don't know that you can put percentages on the different groups. There are a multiple of factors that go into any applicant. About 5 to 10 per cent of the admits get in on academics solely. That is usually dependent on a department review and recommendation. Eg. recently there was a kid who got in to Harvard who was getting around 1500 for each classical musical performance he made because he was so good. There are kids who take graduate level college classes in high school. And the Sam Adams founders daughter just graduated (He is worth about a billion dollars and is an alum) Then there was the Harvard student recently who pointed out a serious flaw in FB privacy so that users could be tracked. He lost his summer internship at FB but got another one that paid 60k for the summer ( the skill set to do that is a lot more than a perfect SAT and is what Harvard is looking for)
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  • DeepBlue86DeepBlue86 1059 replies7 threads Senior Member
    @collegedad13 I agree that there’s certainly overlap (e.g., academic “1”s who are also hooked, legacies or URMs who have three “2”s, etc.) - to what degree, only the Harvard admissions office knows for sure. I think, though, that if you’re a non-athletic “1”, you don’t need (and probably don’t have) much overlap, and if you have three non-athletic “2”s, the overlap is your whole story - you’re very strong on multiple dimensions. People in both of those groups account for most of the admits; everyone else who gets in is definitionally middle of the pack in Harvard’s four-part holistic view, and a hook or the fulfillment of some particular institutional need probably made the difference.
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  • SatchelSFSatchelSF 1372 replies13 threads Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    The Academic 1s are a special case, and no doubt evidence of extraordinary achievement, the criteria for which Harvard understandably does not want to share. All I am saying is that it is odd that Harvard is apparently tracking perfect single sitting scores (at least in my opinion), and that they may be used as a component of deciding who is a 1 (neither necessary nor sufficient, of course).

    This also accords with logic. For some people, getting a 1500 after a few summers of prep and a few actual test attempts is a challenge. On the other hand, a few kids can score 1500+ at 12 years old without even getting out of second gear. From which group would you expect to find a higher rate of Academic 1s when application time rolls around? Which group will on average have the time to get to, say, grad level math courses, or publishing research, or a novel while still in high school? Remember, within the group of 1600 scorers are a few kids who could score 1800+ if the test were made harder, although there are none of those in the 1550 scorer group by definition. Perhaps this phenomenon accounts for the apparent doubling of admit rates between SAT 1550 to 1600, for unhooked kids. That's quite a jump for 50 points, no? If these are one dimensional grade grubbers, it's surprising that Harvard's system doubles their share, no?

    If you go through the academic stuff in the reports, it's pretty clear imo that the Harvard system is actually fairly simple. There is a mechanical SAT/ACT+GPA calculation that outputs an academic index, distributed uniformly across ten deciles. Despite the absence of fine granular data, it also seems pretty clear that the Academic Rating - which is really only available from 1 through 4 - is highly correlated with that index. There is some small adjustment for rigor I'd imagine for a few schools (consider that at a place like Davidson Academy, the bottom 10% will probably be as intelligent as the average top 10% at just about any other school), and these adjustments will certainly make a difference in say, pushing a kid from a 3+ to a 2-, or a 2 to a 2+, but in general given the size of the pool and the limited discretion that junior adcoms must have, it's probably pretty mechanical.

    Academic 2s are basically 50% of the applicant pool (60% of Asians, 46% of whites basically gets you there), and that's where all the action is for unhooked kids. The Academic 3s and 4s are basically "no hopers" imo, without special hooks.

    Take a look at p.15 in the doc linked below and particularly at the notes on academic decile-Academic Rating correlation (and instructive infographic). Given the constraints (no + or - data on the individual ratings, and as noted by me above the possibility that, say, 3+ => 2- or vice versa cannot be captured in the correlation), a 0.70 R^2 (implying ~0.84 correlation) is actually extremely high. There may be less to Harvard's system than meets the eye here. Except for the extraordinary candidates - and I agree with @collegedad13 here regarding faculty involvement because I know it to be true - most of the rest are likely simply mechanically assigned (with slight adjustments for some sending schools and reflecting some reader idiosyncratic factors including error). At least that's how it looks to me.

    http://samv91khoyt2i553a2t1s05i-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Doc-421-145-Admissions-Part-II-Report.pdf
    edited August 2018
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  • CenterCenter 2204 replies66 threads Senior Member
    How do you know --or why do you infer--that the 1600s are single sittings?
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  • SatchelSFSatchelSF 1372 replies13 threads Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    ^ I am just assuming they are single sittings because there are relatively few. If superscoring were included in that number, I'd imagine that in Harvard's applicant pool we would see greater than the 400-600 known single sitting 1600s (or 2400s) in most years (unfortunately, I do not know exactly how many there were in the one year of data that Harvard released - for Class of 2019). It depends of course on how many kids actually achieve 1600 superscores and how many apply to Harvard....

    Not the strongest evidence, I admit. It may well be that the 361 perfect SAT scores are actually superscores, so the "true" single sitting number is somewhat lower, as I noted above.

    I think that Harvard will not superscore the ACT across different sittings, but will consider the highest single sitting, so the ACT 36s represent single sittings.

    The basic point remains that perfect stats kids are going to be incredibly rare, which of course is common sense. More interesting is trying to infer where the cutoffs for the top academic decile really fall. I was assuming around >1580 SAT/36 ACT + >3.9 GPA would be the approximate cutoff, but just eyeing the numbers, I think that is too high. Perhaps 1550/35 + 3.8 GPA gets you into the top 10% of the applicant pool, certainly into the top 20%. I'll try to look at that a little because it is an interesting question for potential applicants and imo more valuable than the "it's holistic/everyone has great stats" advice that's always offered on here.

    We all know that Harvard's raw admit rate is very low (~5.0%), but most of the unhooked applicant pool obviously consists of "no hopers" based on academics alone, so the denominator needs to be adjusted by applicants who are trying to think about chances.
    edited August 2018
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  • SatchelSFSatchelSF 1372 replies13 threads Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    Of course, as noted by @ucbalumnus, it is quite a lot easier to get a "perfect" 36 on the ACT than a 1600 on the SAT, and the absolute numbers reflect this (approximately 3-4x as many 36s as 1600s/2400s).

    You can think about it in terms of combinatorics.

    For the SAT, there is only 1 combo that nets a single sitting 1600 or 2400:

    800 + 800 (+ 800 for 2400 scale tests)

    For the ACT, there are 15 combos for a true composite 36 if my math is right:

    4 sections 36 -- 1 way
    3 sections 36, 1 35 -- 4C1 = 4 ways
    3 sections 36, 1 34 -- 4C1 = 4 ways
    2 sections 36, 2 35 -- 4C2 = 6 ways

    Maybe one of the compsci guys girls - I've learned my lesson, lol - could confirm, it's been a long time since discrete math for me....
    edited August 2018
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  • CenterCenter 2204 replies66 threads Senior Member
    I have always thought the ACT was much easier--why do people argue this?
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 36064 replies406 threads Senior Member
    Excuse me. H does not say they could fill their class with perfect scoring kids.
    Drew Gilpin Faust said valedictorians. I thought Fitzsimmons referred to "qualified" applicants.
    @skieurope ?
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  • CenterCenter 2204 replies66 threads Senior Member
    @SatchelSF said "...documents that runs counter to the seemingly prevailing wisdom on CC that tippy-top elite schools could "fill their classes" with perfect stats kids..." and "Agreed that the percentage of applicants having perfect scores is only relevant to the theme that we often hear on cc: namely, that Harvard could "fill its class" with perfect stats kids." Not that Harvard said it.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 85298 replies761 threads Senior Member
    Center wrote:
    I have always thought the ACT was much easier--why do people argue this?

    Easier for a test taker who is top-end at both tests to score the maximum score, due to the coarser scale.

    But, away from the top end of the scale, some test takers find the ACT easier, while others find the SAT easier.
    Center wrote:
    Not that Harvard said it.

    Prevailing wisdom on the forums can get inaccurate, like the game of telephone.
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  • Data10Data10 3491 replies11 threads Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    If these are (as I believe) single sitting scores, why is Harvard tracking these?
    Card references SAT scores out of 2400 several times in the lawsuit. For example, he mentions that "Harvard’s class of 2019 had mean and median SAT scores of 2241 and 2270." I'd expect that Card has access to all the SAT scores for the class of 2019 and is computing some basic stats on them such as mean, median, and number scoring 2400; rather than Harvard making a special point of highlighting perfect scoring applicants.
    Hmmm. I wonder if in its elusively mysterious criteria for Academic 1s on their effectively 1-4 rating scale (of which there are only about 100 applicants a year iirc), perfect single sitting scores are a component?
    A quote form the Harvard Statement of Material Facts is below. It states that 2+ academic rating includes some applicants with "perfect" grades and testing. And it implies being one of the rare few that get a 1 academic rating (fewer than 0.5% of applicants in lawsuit sample) involves criteria beyond just having perfect stats.

    "An applicant receiving a “2+” academic rating is typically an applicant with perfect, or near-perfect, grades and testing, but no evidence of substantial scholarship or academic creativity.
    ...
    In many circumstances, an applicant receiving a “1” academic rating has submitted academic work of some kind that is reviewed by a faculty member. "

    Scores in themselves of course are not that important; the high admit rates for perfect scorers reflect the group's much higher average intelligence, which will be positively correlated with all the other factors that are important to schools; so, it's not that the scores get the kids in, it's more that the scores evidence their underlying excellence on many other important dimensions as well, again on average for the group.
    I agree that the higher admit rate primarily relates to scores being correlated with other parts of the application rather than score itself. However, I doubt that 2400 scores typically have "much higher average intelligence" than the numerous other Harvard applicants who score a few points shy of 2400. Instead I'd expect the bulk of the perfect scores are persons who took the test several times, until they managed a 800 on each section at least once, which superscored to 2400 Superscoring would explain why the number of 2400's in Harvard's applicant pool is so large in relation to the total number scoring 2400 as listed by CollegeBoard.

    The Arcidiacono regression coefficients suggest the primary driver in the academic component of admission is academic rating, rather than test scores. After controlling for academic rating, the additional contribution of AI was quite small. The small component that does remain may largely relate to +/- academic ratings distinction, which were not controlled for.
    Despite the absence of fine granular data, it also seems pretty clear that the Academic Rating - which is really only available from 1 through 4 - is highly correlated with that index. There is some small adjustment for rigor I'd imagine for a few schools (consider that at a place like Davidson Academy, the bottom 10% will probably be as intelligent as the average top 10% at just about any other school), and these adjustments will certainly make a difference in say, pushing a kid from a 3+ to a 2-, or a 2 to a 2+, but in general given the size of the pool and the limited discretion that junior adcoms must have, it's probably pretty mechanical.
    Of course academic stats are an important component of academic rating. The percentages in different academic deciles who received a 2 (or better) academic rating is below, as listed by Arcidiacono. There is clearly a correlation, but it's also clearly not a mechanical function of an AI threshold.

    Top Decile -- 98%
    2nd Decile -- 94%
    3rd Decile -- 84%
    4th Decile -- 70%
    5th Decile -- 51%
    6th Decile -- 26%
    7th Decile -- 8%
    8th Decile -- 1%

    Academic rating explained 9% of variance in admissions decisions (Card model), and academic index explained ~half of variance in academic rating. Harvard OIR's model was able to explain a larger portion of variance in academic rating through grades and scores than Arcidiacono was able to in his full model that including several functions of academic index, gender, race, concentration, hook status and many other factors. Harvard's OIR model's regression separated grades and scores, which allows a greater relative weight onconverted GPA (or whatever GPA is listed in file) and lesser weight on scores; while Arcidiacono's model forced the AI score heavy weighting (2/3 of AI is scores), which may suggest Harvard is internally places a greater emphasis on grades.
    edited August 2018
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