Predicting Student Success: When SAT and GPA Are Not Enough

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Historical efforts by admissions officers and enrollment managers to assess a student's potential for high academic performance and academic persistence have focused on cognitive potential, measured most frequently by past academic performance (high school GPA) and standardized test scores (SAT, ACT). Yet there is a growing awareness among enrollment managers (driven and confirmed by the research of recent years) that these two measures, taken by themselves, offer limited predictive accuracy.

"Scores and high school GPA only account for about 20 percent of the variability we see in student outcomes. Some students with a respectable GPA and high scores underperform academically in college and drop out, while other students who appear academically under-prepared then proceed to perform highly. This means that some of the students you are losing are in good academic standing. They don't appear to be "at-risk students." To ensure that programming to improve student success is effective, we need better predictors of student success."
Paul Gore, University of Utah

To learn more, we turned to Paul Gore, who serves as the student success special projects coordinator at the University of Utah in addition to his roles as professor, training director for graduate counseling programs, and director of institutional research. Gore has also served as the director of the Career Transitions Research Department at ACT in Iowa City.

Citing recent research, Gore emphasizes the need to adopt assessments of non-cognitive skills, in order to:

  • Identify those students who enter your institution with an average GPA and average test scores, but who are nevertheless likely to be at risk.
  • Identify those first-generation, academically under-prepared students who did not perform as well on the standardized test, but who are engaged, resilient, confident, driven to succeed, and who have the psychological constitution to thrive under stress.
  • Develop, based on this information, more targeted and effective student services programming to support students' academic success and persistence.


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