Study: High school grades predict college grades

College students admitted without submitting SAT or ACT scores do just as well as “submitters,” concludes a new study. Applicants with good high school grades will earn good college grades and complete a degree, said William Hiss, the study’s main author.  He is the former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, one of the first colleges to go test-optional.  

Defining Promise looks at students admitted to small, private liberal arts schools with test-optional policies and large public universities that admit most students based on high school grades and class rank.  (For the public universities, the study looked at admitted students with below-average test scores.) Also included were a few minority-serving institutions and two art schools.

Submitters had slightly higher high school grades and significantly lower test scores.  Their college grades and graduation rates were very similar to nonsubmitters’ success rates.

While many students outperformed their SAT or ACT scores, high school grades strongly predicted college success, the study found. 

. . .  kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.

Hiss says it’s probably not so surprising that a pattern of hard work, discipline and curiosity in high school shows up “as highly predictive, in contrast to what they do in three or four hours on a particular Saturday morning in a testing room.”

I can’t see elite colleges and universities going test optional: They have way too many straight-A applicants.

The SAT will be redesigned to “strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills” needed in college, said David Coleman, the new board president, in a letter to College Board members. Some believe the new SAT will look more like the ACT, which is gaining market share.

Coleman, a co-author of Common Core standards, has promised to “move beyond delivering assessments to delivering opportunity for students so they will be better prepared to succeed in college.” Nobody knows what “delivering opportunity” means, writes Alexander Russo.

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  1. tim-10-ber says:

    Hmmm…I take it these are true grades meaning not inflated, not from using a minimum base of 50 as used in Nashville government schools? Just what is a true grade from a K-12 school? In the government schools in my city, with something called grading for learning a minimum grade of 50 to get one to credit recovery, I have no clue how a college could trust the transcript and would rather rely heavily on the ACT or SAT…

    • tim-10-ber says:

      oh and only 11% of MNPS children that took the ACT scored the ACT “minimum for college readiness. Odd how the college readiness level for a few parts of the ACT are mean kids need remedial education. so — 11% ACT college ready with a graduation rate of 75-78%? Someone is not telling the truth about the quality of education kids are or are NOT receiving in MNPS. How do these two get balanced?

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I know that my high school grades (generally not so great) certainly predicted my college grades (also not so great).

    But I think that the correlation has less to do with intellectual ability, and more to do with one’s attitude toward school and hoop-jumping. Good grades are usually a sign that a student is very good at hoop-jumping and following instructions.

    These qualities aren’t quite as important for academic success once you get past the first two years of college.

  3. Didn’t we just see a big and robust study from Texas that showed the predictive value of GPA had a lot to do with the quality of the HS?

    • That’s what I would assume. The courses/grades at my kids high schools would be usefully predictive, because those were very strong suburban schools that sent many kids to elite colleges every year. I wouldn’t think that top grades at inner city or small rural Appalachian schools would signify similar ability/preparation or likelihood of college success. In the LA Times article about Kashawn Campbell, then at Berkeley, it certainly didn’t.

  4. GPA’s are good predictors, assuming the ACT and/or SAT scores match up. I’d expect a student with a 3.5 or higher to score at least 30 or better on the ACT and 1300+ on the verbal/math portion on the SAT.

    If the GPA is 3.5 and the student gets a composite score of 11, i’d say the GPA wasn’t earned.


    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      So we use the tests to see if the GPA’s are legitimate… and then we use the GPA’s to predict college performance!

      Now we just need something to measure the legitimacy of the tests… maybe how they correlate to GPAs?


  5. In fact, more than 150 test-optional and test-flexible schools are ranked in the top tiers of their respective categories by U.S. News and World Report. The full database (available for free at includes 800+ accredited, bachelor-degree granting colleges and universities.

  6. Crimson Wife says:

    I think the students in the study are a self-selected population and not representative of all students with similar test scores.

    I have a high school friend with standardized test anxiety who majorly underperformed on the SAT despite being a very good student. She attended a well-respected graphic design program and has had a successful career in graphic design/marketing. She’s now making six figures as head of marketing for a textbook publisher.

    However, if you look at our other classmates with similar test scores (there were only 65 kids in my graduating class so everyone knew everything about everyone) they haven’t done remotely as well in the 19 years since graduation. My friend’s mediocre SAT scores did not adequately reflect her potential but a lot of the other kids’ mediocre scores did.