The Advantage Disadvantage

I think it goes without saying that there are far more people who want to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds than there are people who just don’t care. Humans are charitable by nature. Most of us want to help those less fortunate than ourselves. However, this is not to say that people who have worked hard to have a degree of success in their lives, people who have earned the advantages that they now enjoy, should have a disadvantage when helping their students attend top colleges and universities, as well as top public and private schools. If you have worked hard all your life in order to live in a town like Lexington, Newton, Duxbury, or Belmont, than your child should have every possible advantage that every other student has. The truth is, that we are in a time of equating. Those who have reached a position of advantage are now held back so that people who have a disadvantage can get the opportunity that you have earned.

This is a difficult discussion to have. On a personal level, I have felt a great deal of reward when working with deserving students pro bono simply because they could not afford my services. At one point, I watched as a formerly homeless girl, literally living on the streets with her mother, got the opportunity to attend Middlebury College. I have had the honor and privilege of helping students from the inner city study for SATs and prepare college applications. So, when I now discuss the advantage disadvantage, I am not coming at this from elitist perspective. I believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed in life. What I do not agree with is that students should be subject to reverse discrimination, such that some students are held to a higher standard simply to compete with students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This seems to be the byproduct of the adversity score introduced by the College Board this past week. I do, however, offer this caveat: colleges can choose to use this adversity score however they feel is appropriate. Still, it seems only logical that it will be hard to ignore, given that it accompanies every SAT score. Furthermore, families do not have a choice whether that score will appear next to their actual test score. The College Board has simply made the decision for them.

As for transparency, there are far more questions than answers about the validity of the score. However, it is not the purpose of this article to question whether or not the adversity score is accurate. Rather, the question I am posing here is this: “Is it fair for the College Board to provide this information to colleges without permission of parents and families?” It also raises the question of how colleges select their candidates. In my opinion, colleges already do a very good job of using a paradigm of campus diversity as one of its determining factors in admission. It is certainly within the rights of colleges to determine the ethnic blend of its campus, and it can be argued undeniably that diversity adds to the culture and richness of the campus. The concern here is that many good and deserving candidates, including many who are likely to make positive contributions to society, will be cast aside to make room for somebody else simply because that person has a higher adversity score. We can only hope that this will not be true.

In a recent discussion with an Ivy League admission director, I discussed this possibility. Her response seemed to imply that she felt that the information was not needed, and that colleges already have all the information they need to answer the question, “Has this student done the most with the opportunities he has been given?” That, to me, is the critical question. A student who achieves greatness, regardless of the circumstances, deserves to be noticed and considered for admission. We do not want to create an environment in which those who have advantages are placed at a disadvantage. If a parent can afford to send his child to Africa to work with an organization that protects endangered species, should that be held against the student? If a parent can afford to have his child sign up for a summer experience at Harvard University, should that be held against the student? If a parent can afford to send his child to the Johns Hopkins gifted and talented program, should that be held against the student?

As I said before, this is a difficult discussion. But, in my opinion, the College Board has made yet another blunder in a series of profound blunders since 2016, when it introduced the new SAT. At the very least, the adversity score should be optional. Parents should have the opportunity to decide whether or not it accompanies their child’s SAT score. Furthermore, the validity of the adversity score should be analyzed. In fact, this should’ve been done long before it was ever made public. Now, all we can do is decide to live with it or decide to fight against it. I have no doubt that the adversity score will be challenged in the courts. As for the outcome, it is anyone’s guess, and it may go far beyond anything we can predict. Living in an era of big data certainly has its advantages, but as we have seen this week, it comes along with the potential of profound problems, over-analysis, and unintentional consequences such as placing highly talented students at a competitive disadvantage, simply because they were born into advantage.

Neil Chyten, Founder

NC Global Education


833-888-6232 (Chinese Line) 

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