3 Reasons Why “Adversity Score” Is NOT New, But More Helpful. (Part 1)

OK – so you might have heard…

College Board recently released news about their new admission tool, The Environmental Context Dashboard (ECD). The media has labeled this the SAT Adversity Score. College Board calls it ECD.

Everywhere I went this week people asked me about the Adversity Score, and so today, my friends, I’m answering the question everyone is asking: “What is it and How does this affect me?”

I read the information put out by the source, College Board. And without watching every single media spin, I have read, digested, summarized, and analyzed it for you.

First, if you are a rising senior, class of 2020, there are 150 colleges that will use the dashboard this fall in a research scenario as the College Board continues to make tweaks and learn from its users. You will not be affected.

College Board plans to make ECD available to all colleges for free in 2020-2021.

But here is what you need to know. I’ve broken it down for you in 4 COMPONENTS:


Currently – Admission Officers gather that data about any given applicant from 4 sources:

1 – WHAT THE APPLICANT’S SCHOOL SAYS ABOUT ITSELF — SCHOOL PROFILE — this document is made available to families and sent to colleges by the high school. The most comprehensive school profiles will include the following information; demographics, enrollment, graduation requirements, # of honors / AP/ IB courses offered / GPA and class rank distribution / AP data listed / breakdown of test scores – including SAT / ACT/ AP scores – averages / mean/ Accolades such as – Blue Ribbon School, National Merit Scholars Data, AP Awards/ Colleges the students are admitted to / % attending 4-year colleges / % attending 2-year colleges.

I believe every family should have a copy of their own School Profile. You want to know this information and it should be made available to you.

This first piece of data gathering is the SAME for every single applicant from that particular high school.

2 – WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY ABOUT THE APPLICANT – The applicant’s numbers – or what I referred to as the AQs – the Academic Qualities – include the applicant’s GPA, rigor of curriculum, test scores, and class rank.

Using the School Profile as a guide, the admission officer can now put into context where the applicant falls in relation to his/her peers.

Example: I can see where the applicant falls within the GPA distribution, I understand how her test scores fit within the mean SAT score listed. And I understand if AP Calculus is NOT offered at his high school, but I see Calculus on his transcript – I know that was the highest level of math available to that applicant.


There is typically a chart students can fill out to record their accomplishments outside of the classroom: Activities, Honors/Awards, and Work Experience. Additionally, Admission Officers rely on the student’s college essays to gather any other information possible. The essays are NOT meant to repeat data found elsewhere in the application, but rather, shed light on new information – I refer to both pieces of data as your PQs – your Personal Qualities.

PQs include everything outside of the classroom – everything outside of your numbers. Clubs, organizations, sports, arts, community service, community involvement – etc. But PQs also include an applicant’s upbringing, home life, and any circumstances. I offer my own example when I was a senior in high school – oldest of 3 girls, single- parent home, non-practicing Catholic, family vacation included camping most summers, large extended Mexican family.

The college essays are a combination of expanding on your resume – and disclosing personal experiences.

4 – WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT THAT APPLICANT  – Letters of recommendation come from the school counselor and 1-2 teachers. In theory – these are meant to offer accolades and strengths in the areas of your AQs, while also filling in some of the gaps of your PQs. The truth is – there is not enough space for each applicant to share EVERYTHING they want / need to share. Choices are made for the essays – and again – in theory – we hope the recommendations fill in the rest.

OK – you got all of that?  That is the CURRENT practice – 4 resources that Admission Officers use to gather data about each applicant. Let me review: 1 – The School Profile, 2 – the student’s AQs, 3 – The student’s PQs, and 4 – letters of recommendation.


1 – SCHOOL – Schools submit the School Profile.

PROBLEM: not every high school has a school profile – or at least I can’t always find one. Further, not all school profiles are created equal. Some have very limited information, which makes it difficult for Admission Officers to advocate for students.

So – without a profile or with a limited profile, a college must rely on their own knowledge of each high school.

Let me stop right here – this is nearly impossible. Each college will receive applicants from hundreds or thousands of different high schools.

Just in my territory – I read nearly 700 applications per year. Even if the average per high school is 5 (some much higher and many lower) – that is still more than 130 different high schools just for me to know about, let alone the other 7 Admission Officers in our office.

While it is ideal for each Officer to intimately know the high schools in their territory (literally hundreds of schools)  — it is simply not practical.  Right now the School Profile is what they have to go by.

2 – STUDENT – Not all students / applicants know or understand the importance of conveying their story and the context of their life experiences.

Let me pause again – because I’m going to go out on a limb and make a bold statement –

Most Students do not realize the importance of conveying their personal story, personal history, and personal challenges to the admission office.

Let me explain – while you are listening to this podcast wherever you are in the country, you found me because you are looking for information about the college admission process and you want to become familiar with how to navigate this journey. I am doing my Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah cheer right now – because YOU ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING. AND MY MISSION IS TO GET MORE INFORMATION TO EVERY FAMILY IN AMERICA.

BUT THE SAD REALITY is this: the student to counselor ratio in our country is just under 500:1 – and in my home state of California, it is nearly double that.

So – while in my world it seems that everyone knows which ingredients to add to the college application, that is NOT the reality across school districts, states, and in our country. Period.  Students who KNOW which ingredients go in the application have one or both of the following: 1 – adults in their life who know and pass that information on to them, and/or 2 – attend a high school where there is a college-going culture and they get info from counselors/ teachers/ peers.

I will use myself as an example. I had to write an essay to get into USC. It was the only essay I had to write that year. I chose to write about being on student council – the essay was about delivering my first speech to the whole school. That’s what I wrote.

No mention of my parents’ separation – I was embarrassed.

No mention of having to work to supplement and cover my additional teenage expenses – I didn’t find that different – all my friends had a part- time job.

No mention of camping as our form of family vacation – it didn’t occur to me that other families traveled outside of the country – I’d never been outside the state.

Think about it. When all you know is what and how you grew up — it doesn’t occur to you that it is special and worth writing about.

The onus falls on the student for capturing the context — but many don’t do it and/or believe they need to write about something way more impressive than sharing a room with little brother while Mom works 3 jobs.

For a kid like me – applying to college was “fancy” – so I had to be my “fanciest” self in the application. Otherwise, how would I prove to be worthy?

3 – RECOMMENDERS — I’ve already mentioned the counselor: student ratio in our country — it is nearly 500: 1. In some states it is nearly double that  — so relying on a counselor to share the kind of information a college is looking for to understand the full context of every applicant — that is a lot to ask for from each counselor for every student.

I was in the top 15-20 students in my class and student body president. I don’t think there was a single adult who knew my real home life circumstances. So if anyone did write a letter of recommendation, instead of adding a new dimension of who I am, they likely covered the same information I offered in my essay.

OK – so I hope I’ve made an argument for the 3 gaps in our current process

1 – All school profiles are not created equal.

2 – All Student Applicants do not have the same information and guidance as to which ingredients to add to their college application.

3 – ALL recommenders can’t possibly know the delicate and sometimes sensitive information about each student.

Portion of David Coleman’s statement: CEO College Board

“There is talent and potential waiting to be discovered in every community—the children of poor rural families, kids navigating the challenges of life in the inner city, and military dependents who face the daily difficulties of low income and frequent deployments as part of their family’s service to our country. No single test score should ever be examined without paying attention to this critical context.”

Coach Me To The Finish Line!

This is exactly what I’ve been searching for!! Help Me, Teach Me, Guide Me.  #ImOnIt

Copyright © 2018. Dr. Cynthia Colon                    Privacy Policy

Site modified by Omino Web Design