The Academic Index

Ivy League colleges use a tool called the Academic Index to summarize the academic performance of applicants. Originally developed as a means of establishing common standards for student-athlete applicants, the Academic Index (AI) has become a sort of shorthand for ranking students. Other colleges, elite and otherwise, may also use variants of the Academic in their admission process.

The Academic Index may seem like a gross oversimplification - reducing a student's K - 12 academic record to a single number seems almost ludicrous. However, the AI does provide a quick snapshot to harried college admissions staff members. Any Ivy League admissions officer would certainly explain that applicants get a far more in-depth look than the AI might suggest.

Ivy League schools may not base their entire admission decision on the Academic Index, but the AI and its components are a good thing for Ivy applicants to understand. Michelle Hernandez, a former Dartmouth admissions official, openly discussed how important the AI was in her book, A is for Admission.

Without going into the detailed mathematics, the Academic Index combines numeric values based on a student's SAT I and SAT II scores plus his/her class rank or GPA. Since schools report class rankings in different manners (or sometimes not at all), the last measure can be a bit tricky. Nevertheless, standardized computation procedures have been established to allow Ivy League schools to calculate a consistent Academic Index for all applicants.

According to Hernandez, the AI is converted into a numeric ranking at most Ivies. Some use a 1 to 9 scale, others a 1 to 6, etc. Princeton, she says, uses a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being the best. Dartmouth and University of Pennsylvania use a 1 to 9 scale, where 9 is the best. While acknowledging that many other factors play a role in admissions, Hernandez notes that students with an converted AI ranking of 8 and 9 (i.e., those applicants with the two highest categories of Academic Index) are admitted at much higher rates than lower indices.

Perhaps the only major surprise in the Academic Index is the key role of the SAT II scores. A student with strong SAT I scores and high class rank must also do very well on the SAT II tests to achieve a high AI and increase chances of admission.

Is it fair to compress years of hard work into a single digit number? Maybe not, but the Academic Index is a fact of life in Ivy League admissions, so applicants should understand it and, if possible, maximize their own AI.

Click here for the Academic Index Calculator.