College Board Explained: What is the SAT Student Questionnaire and Student Search Service?

Once upon a time, I served as an SAT Test Center Administrator. Part of my duties included hiring proctors to help with test administration on SAT test day. During one test, I overheard one of my proctors tell students at her table that they shouldn’t check “yes” to participating in the SAT Student Questionnaire and the Student Search Service unless they wanted to start receiving “tons of junk mail” from colleges. All that mail would ultimately just have to be thrown into their family recycling bin, after all. I had to bite my tongue in the moment but later that day I pulled the proctor aside to explain why I disagreed with her advice.

SAT student search

In full disclosure, she’s probably right in the sense that if you check “yes,” you’re going to start receiving a lot more mail and college emails. But that’s not a bad thing in this case. Here’s why:

How to Get Colleges to Send You Stuff

The College Board sells your contact information to colleges. They’re a big business, and that’s no secret. But universities don’t buy all of the names. First, that would be too expensive, and secondly, overkill. They use the College Board’s Student Search Service (simply called “Search” within the biz) to drill down to a specific list of students of interest.

RELATED: 2019 SAT and ACT Test Dates

Essentially, the approximately 30 questions included on the questionnaire serve as a filter for institutions. Institutions can limit by gender, intended major, grades/GPA, SAT score, mobility (how far you’re willing to travel), college size preference, and even zip code.

Search Examples

Institutions can create very specific lists of student names to purchase. These specific search lists best suit their needs and institutional priorities that year. For example, one year, my institution wanted to increase out-of-state student enrollment in everything but engineering (we already had plenty of students in that college). Funds were limited for name purchases so we were very specific. Our search needs read something like:

  • High school juniors
  • Not from Virginia
  • Self-reported A- average
  • 1100 on the SAT
  • Want a large university
  • Do not want to attend college in an urban area
  • Want to attend college away from home
  • Do not want to study engineering

So while you will have heavier loads to haul in from the mailbox and more email to sort through in your inbox, look at these increases in mail as opportunities, not extra recycling. If you’re receiving communications from a college, something about your SAT Questionnaire profile led them to believe you might be a good fit for them. Sure, you’re going to receive mail from colleges you’ve never heard of before, but that’s the point! These marketing campaigns are designed to expose you to opportunities you might not know existed.

Additionally, the closer you meet their wish list, the more they’ll send you. Once colleges have your name and contact information, you may be invited to special events, camps, weekends, and scholarship competitions. Sometimes these can even be all-expenses paid overnight weekend trips! It can’t hurt, can it?

Go To the Party

I once had a very upset parent call and complain. One of her twin sons was distraught because his brother (who wasn’t even interested in our college) had received an invitation to a campus special event while he (who really liked our school) had received nothing. She said the omission had made her son feel like we didn’t want him.

After a little digging it became clear that one son had checked “yes” to the question about participating in the Student Search Service and answered the SAT Student Questionnaire on his SAT and the other had checked “no.” The moral of the story? Don’t be the kid who doesn’t get invited to the party because you wouldn’t share your number. Spread your search net as wide as you can! You never know who might be looking for you out there.

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