How important are entrance scores like SAT, ACT, and ASVAB on your future?

Scoring high on the ASVAB

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is the military's standard assessment exam, like the SAT and ACTs are for colleges.
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is the military’s standard assessment exam, like the SAT and ACT are for colleges.

When I graduated from high school (1993) I was in the top 90th percentile on standardized tests and had a 3.82 GPA, but all these years later I have no idea what my ACT or SAT scores were. However, I do remember my ASVAB score as plain as day. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB, for short) is a standardized written aptitude test administered by the US Military to high school and college students considering entry into military service.

I remember my ASVAB score because it was a piece of cake — for me — but still, I was surprised at my score when they showed it to me:

98/100 !!!

Now, time passes and things have a way of changing including metrics and rubrics to evaluate skill, aptitude, compatibility, mental fitness, etc. So, maybe the current iteration of the ASVAB has changed since I originally took it. I say originally because I first took it my senior year of high school (1993), and then again 3 years later while attending college. The second time I got a perfect 100% score.

Military career derailed by marijuana conviction

Unfortunately, a conviction for dumb choices I made while in college derailed my plans to enter the military. It was 1996 and the government had not quite reached the point where they were so starved for recruits that they would allow those with multiple felonies into the service. That would come just a few years later.

In case you were wondering, my felony was for marijuana possession, and back then in Iowa (and still to this day in 2018) possession over an ounce was called intent to distribute and you get that felony, plus they automatically tack on a “Failure to affix drug tax stamp” felony, a blue law they have kept on the books since the 1940s so they can (for lack of a better term), “double jeopardy” you, and make more money from your incarceration all in one shot. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) describes tax stamp laws like this:

[T]he legislative intent of drug tax laws is to impose an additional penalty – tax evasion – upon drug offenders after they are arrested and criminally charged with a drug violation.

According to the same post, twenty US states have these tax stamp penalties.

Pain and struggle can help us remember

So, why do I remember my ASVAB scores more than the college entry tests?

I think for me — and likely for others — it boils down to pain.

Logo for Iowa State University College of EngineeringMy SAT and ACT scores were good enough in 1993 that I was accepted into Iowa State University, home of the Iowa Cyclones and (at the time) THE BEST engineering program in the United States. I could have studied robotics, electronic engineering, and even Cad/3D Modeling. I toured their campus in summer of 93 and I remember seeing a demonstration of the new technology they invented of automotive safety materials simulations using CAD, something that became relatively commonplace within the automotive and mechanical design industries within the next 5 years.

But, it was not to be. Turns out, there is a lot more to the college admission process than test scores. I had extremely high scores and even tested out into Advanced Calculus and Composition II, but because I applied in May instead of January (I had no idea you had to apply so early back then — I was the first in my family’s children to be accepted into a 4-year college) I missed out on the majority of available funding, early class selection, and the “rushing” or orientation to campus, Greek, and dorm life that many of the most successful students had access to. Not to mention, the older relative who I was supposed to stay with to save money on rent decided to go on walkabout two weeks before class was supposed to start.

Getting my Associates degree at Hawkeye Community College

Logo for Hawkeye Community CollegeI was, however, fortunate to be able to enroll at the local technical college (Hawkeye Community College, whose alumni includes Maddie Poppe, recent American Idol winner) in their Engineering program and graduated two years later (summer attendance was required for all participants) with my A.A.S Degree in Electronics Engineering Technology.

Once I had that degree, I didn’t know what to do with it, but that began my search for the right job for me. I’ve had the pleasure of working many contracts since I began my career in IT at age 20 and I’ve always been open to working in new and emerging areas of information technology and software engineering.

Accept the sacrifices that come with your choices

So, in retrospect, how would higher scores have affected my life choices? Hard to say.

No, really.

If I had gotten higher scores and planned more effectively, I might have gotten a full ride to MIT that Adam was talking about. But I might have also gotten stuck in a rut of success that was too much pressure to handle. Notwithstanding, without my above average (70th percentile nationwide) ACT & SAT scores, I may not have ever been admitted to Iowa State, nor subsequently, Hawkeye Community College and perhaps that would have been a hit to my self worth and aspiration. So, from my personal experience, I believe it is important to do well on college admissions tests, but mostly just for getting admitted to a good college.

For every decision we make in life there are consequences. Both good and bad. Whenever I run into a roadblock, first I pray for guidance. If something that seems bad happens to me I ask myself “what is the good or lesson that I should learn from this experience”. In that way, every disappointment and every success makes me better prepared for what lies ahead.

You are never the same person you were yesterday.

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