College Board announces new plan to consider socioeconomic factors in admissions

College Board announces "Landscape" program

The College Board is announcing a plan to consider socioeconomic factors in the admissions process, in an attempt to ensure that every student has an equal shot at higher education. The board's new Landscape program will give colleges consistent information on each applicant's high school and neighborhood, to highlight students who have done more with less. 

As more colleges and universities become test-optional over criticism of standardized tests favoring the wealthy, the College Board is giving colleges a reason to continue using the SAT as part of the admissions process. Landscape looks at how the applicant's test score compares to scores of other students in their high school, and evaluates factors including local college attendance rates, median family income, and crime numbers.

College Board CEO David Coleman said the SAT is currently "fair, but it has limits."

"What it is, is a fair measure of achievement — but what it doesn't tell is the context in which that achievement occurred," he said. "It might be useful to know, 'Wow they achieved that score on the SAT, but it was 300 points higher than anyone ever at that school.' That's an amazing context."  

Back in May, Coleman announced plans for an "adversity score" — a single number that would reflect an applicant's neighborhood and school. The Landscape program will replace that score.

"We made changes because we heard and thought we could do better," Coleman said. "There is no longer a single number that tries to sum up your neighborhood and school. Today, we'll share with everyone exactly how we calculate it, and within a year, every student and family, they'll be able to see the information for their neighborhood and school."  

Some critics may worry that overeager parents might move into lower-income neighborhoods to give their kids an advantage in the application process. The College Board said a student can't be admitted or denied based on Landscape, and that it will only be used as one of many considerations. 

College counselor Gilbert Viveros said the changes can only do so much.

"I'm hoping that it's not exploited. I'm hoping that it's used for what it's made to be," Viveros said. "It won't be until we see some major shifts in admissions rates amongst students of color, low income, first generation, can we say that, 'OK, progress is being made.' It'll have to be a 'wait and see' at this point."  

The College Board is also announcing changes to prevent a recurrence of the recent college admissions cheating scandal. One of those changes include modifications to where tests like the SAT can be taken. "We're not going to allow those environments outside of school anymore," Coleman said. "And if we ever do, we will have multiple checks on the identity of both the student and proctor."

That's good news for applicants like Simone Kyle, who's quick to admit that applying to college is stressful. Over the weekend, she took her second stab at the SAT's in hopes of boosting her score.

Taking the SATs is "nerve wracking," Kyle said. "Because you feel like every question that you answer, you're thinking about, 'will I get into college?'"

Kyle attends a selective college prep high school in New York City, maintains a 3.8 GPA, plays sports, and volunteers. But she doesn't know if it's enough — especially after the scandal revealed others broke the rules.

"It can be concerning, because you're putting so much trust into this process," Kyle said. "You're meeting all the guidelines, you're meeting all the deadlines, and all the things that you have to do, and you're trusting that other side to consider everyone fairly and not be bribed."