High-School Grades Are Best Predictors of College Success, Study Finds

June 19, 2007

The high-school grades of University of California students are better predictors of their success in college than are their SAT scores, according to new study by Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Santelices, of the university’s Berkeley campus.

The study examined the fates of nearly 80,000 students who entered the university system as freshmen from 1996 to 1999. In earlier work Mr. Geiser has analyzed how those students’ freshman grades were related to their SAT scores and high-school grades. The new study moves forward in time, assessing the students’ cumulative college grades and their four-year graduation rates.

The bottom line, according to Mr. Geiser and Ms. Santelices: High-school grades are at least as strong a predictor of cumulative four-year college grades as they are of first-year college grades.

Standardized-test scores do add a “small but statistically significant improvement in predicting long-term college outcomes,” the authors concede. But they argue that SAT scores are so intertwined with students’ socioeconomic status and add so little predictive value that their use in college admissions should be minimized. “High-school grades provide a fairer, more equitable, and ultimately more meaningful basis for admissions decision-making,” they write.

Critics of Mr. Geiser’s previous work have suggested that he did not take enough account of variance in students’ grades across the UC campuses and across different academic disciplines. The new study attempts to answer that concern by breaking the data down for each UC campus and for each major family of academic disciplines. The results are consistent, the authors assert: At each campus and in each academic field, high-school grades are by far the most accurate predictors of college success. —David Glenn