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If you think the SAT or ACT is more important than school grades and activities, think again!

Here’s a case study of two students of mine who applied to UCLA this year. Student A was admitted while Student B was rejected:

Student A

1490 SAT

740 Physics

780 Maths 2 

IB Predicted Grade: 43

Major related activities: Yes

Student B

1470 SAT

790 Physics

780 Maths 2

IB Predicted Grade: 33

Major related activities: Not really

School Grades > SAT / ACT, SAT Subject Tests

Solid school grades are the foundation of any successful application. It’s evidence that the student excels day in and day out throughout the whole year. While it’s possible to cheat or cram in information last minute in standardised tests, it’s nearly impossible to do so for your coursework.

While the SAT / ACT as well as SAT Subject Tests help compare you against the many other applicants out there, they are extras assessments that help solidify that you are indeed ready for college.


From an admission officer’s standpoint, while applicant B has very competitive standardized test scores, his average predicted grades show perhaps some degree of laziness or a lack of ability to cope with the rigorous IB curriculum. 

Major related activities

There are many different factors when considering a student’s activities: 


The common application has 10 fields for activities, & the UC application allows for more. Pretty much everyone applying will at least have 10, so if you’re currently under 10 you’re in trouble.


Obviously the longer you do an activity the more substantial it becomes. WHEN you do these activities also matter, so if you quit something before grade 11, don’t expect it to be an important part of your application.


Now just because you have 10 activities and you’ve been able to maintain them in accordance to your academics doesn’t mean you’re unique. Schools tend to look for students who have risen through the ranks of student organizations.

Relevance to your major

Last but not least, it’s very important that you have activities that are related to your potential college major or else your application essays will be just all talk when the schools ask you why you want to study a particular subject.


While Student A’s activities aren’t exactly unique and substantial (which by the way are preferred), they communicate a very specific passion of his. He was able to clearly and passionately show why he wanted to pursue a certain field at UCLA. Whereas on the other hand, while applicant B has more overall activities and awards, his last major-related activity was in grade 10. Even the most persuasive application essay in the world would not be able to beat substance.

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