High family income, not SAT scores, is your real ticket to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton

Michael Sandel:

First, the SAT, it turns out, does not measure scholarly aptitude or native intelligence independent of social and educational background. To the contrary, SAT scores are highly correlated with wealth. The higher your family income, the higher your SAT score. At each successive rung on the income ladder, average SAT scores increase. For scores that put students in contention for the most selective colleges, the gap is especially stark. If you come from a family with an annual income greater than $200,000, your chance of scoring above 1400 (out of 1600) is one in five. If you come from a poor family (less than $20,000 per year), your chance is one in fifty. Those in high-scoring categories are also, overwhelmingly, children of parents with college degrees.

Beyond the general educational advantages well-off families can provide, the SAT scores of the privileged are boosted by the use of private test- prep courses and tutors. Some, in places like Manhattan, charge as much as $1,000 per hour for one-on-one tutoring. As meritocratic competition for college admission has intensified in recent decades, tutoring and test prep has become a billion-dollar industry.