Perfect ACT/SAT Scores Don’t Guarantee Acceptance Letters


I can’t log on to Facebook these days (or check my email or answer my phone) without someone trying to sell me the latest greatest ACT study program. Clearly I’ve been identified as a parent of high school aged kids.

Most offensive to me are the ads disguised as ‘articles’ where a parent talks about what they did (the program they paid for) that got their child accepted into a top university. This tactic preys upon parents’ insecurities and desires to provide the best for their kids.

I have two sons with perfect ACT scores and I’m here to tell you it’s not all that.

When my boys received perfect scores everyone assumed they’d get into any school they wanted, but we quickly learned scores and grades don’t guarantee admission to Ivy League schools even when combined with 12 AP classes, National Merit Scholar awards, athletic letters, charitable work, leaderships positions, Eagle Scout certificates, musical prowess, foreign language fluency, etc.

Just out of curiosity, I hopped on a chatroom of Harvard hopefuls a few years ago and found a whole slew of kids with “perfect resumes” who received nothing but rejection letters. As one student put it, “No one has a guarantee of getting accepted; it’s like running around a football field and praying you’ll get struck by lightning.”

And that’s perfectly OK.

Because our kids don’t need to go to Harvard, or maybe they do, and they’ll have the perfect combination of qualities that attracts lightning into their lives. But as parents we can’t make that happen. Love, support, books, curfews, opportunities, gentle reminders to study– I offer all that and more, but no one test, no one opportunity will make or break my child’s future. Our kids are so much more than numbers or lists of accomplishments.

A perfect score represents a hat trick, a fun bit of trivia, but it doesn’t quantify the worth of a human being. My boys are so much more than those numbers. They’re funny and kind, they play peek-a-boo with babies and shovel snow for old people.

My darling Xander has been studying all week (in between working at the gelato store and going to the zoo with Mary) for the ACT tomorrow. With ‘Twenty One Pilots’ as background music, he’s been diving into the books, watching tutorials on Khan Academy and catching several old movies on Amazon Prime. I don’t criticize; he can study however he wants. But I do make him study.

There’s a fine balance between helping a kid live up to his potential and pushing him too far. Xander’s annoyed with me this week, but he also wants to do well. Even a few points can make all the difference between a scholarship and paying full tuition, so there’s a lot of money on the line. But no score can increase or diminish my love for Xander and his crazy, creative, adorable personality.

I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again.

At her 17 year old son’s funeral, my friend Judy Wolf spoke directly to the children in the audience, “I’m going to tell you one of your parents’ great secrets. You know all the fuss they make about your grades and making the team and getting awards?” Her eyes swept through the room as she noted the many children and teenagers filling the chapel.

“This competition, this drive to measure up: It’s all a show. Your parents are in love with you anyway. From the moment you were born they adored you — all you had to do was show up.”

And it’s true. From the moment they were born (and months before) our children own our hearts and souls. And for those of us lucky enough to watch our kids grow to adulthood, let’s cheer them on through junior colleges and part-time jobs; garage inventions and trade schools; some will go overseas, others will never leave their home town. There are at least 8 billion different ways to be happy in this life and most of those don’t include an Ivy League education.

So, good luck to my beautiful boy tomorrow and to everyone taking an ACT or SAT test. When those scores come back, no matter how high or how low, they don’t measure your intrinsic, infinite value. You are already enough.


June 21, 2016



  1. Kit

    June 10, 2016

    So beautiful. So true. Thanks for all of your mother wisdom. Love you! Good luck, Xander! Can’t wait to see all the amazing things you will do in this world!

  2. Danielle

    June 10, 2016

    My daughter was a National Merit Scholar. Her best friend was too…and also got a perfect SAT score, was the concert master for her school’s prestigious orchestra, and spoke fluent Chinese. She DID get into Harvard (and is attending currently) but she didn’t get in to her first choice school…Stanford. We were all shocked! My son is taking the ACT tomorrow too. He’s been studying all week as well. You said what I’ve been thinking…it would be great for him to get a high score…but he is such a great person that would just be the icing on top.

  3. Brett Nielson

    June 11, 2016

    That’s exactly right. I believe in providing opportunities for my children to discover who they are and develop into loving and caring human beings. I want them to succeed in the world and I do want them to do well in school, but Harvard is not required. Maybe they will grow up to be outstanding parents and forego grueling careers and limelight. If so, they have chosen the better part. Of the different career choices I could have made, I was blessed to find one that would provide adequately for my needs but allows me to be the father that I want to be. For me, that brings greater happiness.

  4. Amy

    June 11, 2016

    Thanks, what a great reminder! So love your wisdom.

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