A Global Exam for a Global Campus

Students from around the world want to attend American universities—the United States is the top destination for international students—and American institutions want a global student body. A diverse community of students from other parts of the world enriches the classroom and campus experience of all students. But as hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world pursue college in the U.S., they bring with them different educational experiences and preparation. Standardized tests like the SAT allow colleges to have a common benchmark for all students, regardless of location or background. From Denmark to Djibouti, the SAT helps admissions officers to compare and review students in context and ensure the success of all students on campus.

Only recently, however, has it become possible to quantify just how useful the SAT is in both identifying highly qualified students from outside the United States and predicting their success in the first year of college.

As part of an ongoing series of College Board’s SAT validity research, a new study examined the relationship between international students’ SAT scores and their first-year grade point average (FYGPA) at U.S. universities and colleges. The study found that, as with the larger national study, SAT exam scores are strongly predictive of FYGPA for international students. In fact, SAT scores add 44% more predictive power than just looking at a high school grade point average alone.

Mean FYGPA by HSGPA and SAT Total Score Bands

Figure 1: The international validity study shows that even as we hold HSGPA constant, as SAT scores increase first-year GPAs in university increase.

Key takeaways from the study:

Validity of SAT for International Students Attending U.S. Colleges:

  • The SAT is strongly predictive of college success for international students attending U.S. colleges and universities.
  • Using the SAT in conjunction with high school grade point average (HSGPA) is the most powerful way to predict future academic performance of international students.
  • As a global measure of college readiness, the SAT provides admissions officers with insight about the capabilities of students from high schools for which they have little information about course offerings or academic rigor.

The new findings about the validity of the SAT for predicting international students’ success in college are especially important right now as international students remain a critical part of higher education’s enrollment strategies. Although international student enrollment in the US has declined in recent years, student interest remains high. In the graduating class of 2019, nearly 162,000 students from nearly every country and region outside the U.S. participated in the SAT at some point during secondary school, the highest participation internationally in the exam’s history. ​​The growth among test takers has been largest in East Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. 

As colleges and universities continue to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, it’s important to recognize the valuable information and context that reliable, valid data like the SAT adds in holistic review and other contextual admissions practices.

On July 7, the College Board will host the webinar Continuing to Reach & Retain International Students: COVID-19 & the SAT to dig into trends in international student mobility and its SAT validity data as it relates to international students. Click here to learn more and register.