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Standardized Testing: How I Got Into College, How I Didn’t Get Into Grad School.

Recently in the news, President Barack Obama discussed limiting education for standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time. He also pointed out that standardized testing is more than filling out the right bubble.

This is a sensitive topic for parents, teachers, and students. I believe standardized testing is a joke, so I’d like to share my story.

Back in the nineties , when I applied for college, I did TERRIBLE on the SAT. I tried everything. I made 500 flashcards to learn words that MIGHT be on the test. I took Ivy West, which was a pricey hands on tutorial program to help raise my score, but for some other reason or another, I couldn’t seem to raise my score.

I recalled the meeting with my high school college counselor and she looked at my list of schools and said I needed to start over. She continued on to say that with my SAT score there was no way I would be able to get into any of the Ivy League schools that were on my list. I said, ok, we’ll just see about that. I was Student Body President of one of the top private high schools in Los Angeles, I had a 4.3 GPA, belonged to all the clubs, and was a student athlete. THANK GOD. Volleyball was going to be my ticket, and only hope of getting into a top University.

I started getting recruited by schools all over the nation my junior year. By senior year I was fortunate to have recruiting trips to Harvard and almost Wharton. The volleyball coach said with my SAT score I would not get unto Wharton, but if I applied to the Arts and Science program through the University of Pennsylvania, I was a shoe in. I was strategic about it. My plan was to get into my safety school, Boston College, which I did through early decision, and would shoot for the moon with the Ivy League, and if I failed, at least I tried and had a back up school already in place.

Being a native from California I also applied to UCLA and Berkeley. I was rejected and I’m pretty sure I never had the chance to have anyone consider my application due to the fact that with my SAT score, I didn’t make the grade. That sucked, especially for my parents, cause it would be a cheaper than a private school, but with my score there was no way I had a chance. Those schools start with the SAT score then take it from there. I don’t think anyone read my application cause my score couldn’t compete. Ok, next!

So I had a recruiting trip at Harvard which was disastrous. The school, despite its world-renowned reputation, did not impress me. Luckily, when I was flying back home from the trip, I had a lay over at Newark New Jersey airport and, due to the weather, the flight was cancelled. I decided to phone a friend that was attending Columbia University at the time and asked to crash on his floor. The moment I stepped onto the campus I realized I had made a big mistake. I knew that I belonged at Columbia. The next day I marched into the gym and walked up to the volleyball coach, introduced myself, and said I’m going here.

Thankfully, she already knew me from talking to other Ivy League coaches that were interested in me so, she was thrilled to learn that I had every intention of going there. Ironically, Columbia was my first recruitment letter my sophomore year but it was sent to my coach who neglected to give it to me. As a result, the coach thought I was never interested in attending Columbia, so backed off on recruiting me. But know I was ready to go.

I applied to Columbia spring of my senior year which, mind you, is way past the December deadline. I was not playing by the rules, I was on a mission, and I was not going to back down over a stupid score.

I was accepted. And yes, without volleyball I would never have gotten in with my terribly low SAT score.

Fast forward, a couple years later, it was time for me to declare a major. I took an Intro to the English Major course to see if English was my destiny. I remember submitting my first paper and receiving an email from the Professor stating that he wanted to see me. As it turns out, he called me into his office and said, “I’m not going to mince words. You’re writing needs serious attention.” I got so excited. I was on my way to be the next great writer. Then he said, “You have no business being an English major.” Oh. So I’m not exceptional, I’m flat out bad. I remember smiling and saying ok and thinking to myself, we’ll just see about that.

Fast forward a year, I was on my way to getting my BA in English and took my first class, Into to Shakespeare, and I got my first C ever in my entire life. I was devastated, mostly because I had a lifetime record of A’s and B’s and couldn’t believe I got a C in an entry-level English course. But, that didn’t stop me.

Fast forward another year, I was the top of my class in the English department. I was a student of some of the most established Professors in the world. I was selected to attend a highly sought after seminar class that only allowed ten students hand picked by a Professor that now runs the English Department at Yale. What was the seminar? The Tragedies of Shakespeare, which I earned an A –.

So I graduated magna cum lade. Yes, that stupid one time C brought my GPA down as not to get summa cum laude but that’s ok. I won. I didn’t quit. I didn’t let that Intro to English Professor stop me, thank GOD.

Fast forward ten years. I decided in my late twenties that I wanted to go back to school and pursue a PHD. And….. here we go again. Welcome to the GRE. Once again, I took the test and my score was so bad I thought maybe the Ivy League schools that I planned on applying for would think because it was so bad, I might have some unique intelligence. No. Despite the fact that I took another tutorial class called the Princeton Review that meet for five hours every Sunday for three months at USC, every time I took the test, my score got WORSE. But, once again, it was not going to deter me from applying to top Universities. BUT, I did NOT have my golden athletic ticket to bypass the standardized testing that unfortunately our country adheres to. I had a kick ass essay that analyzed a history of poets that suffered from mental illness and showed how their writings revealed their mania or depression, I contacted those top Professors that taught me at Columbia and asked them for a recommendation and not only did they remember me, they gladly agreed. That Professor from that Shakespeare seminar course that now runs the English Department at Yale was rooting for me, as was another extraordinary Professor. BUT, that score was a problem. Just like I did in high school, I ran on the treadmill with a list of 600 vocabulary words which I memorized and took a million practice tests but nope. Not good.

At the time I was working at Harbor UCLA in their inpatient psych unit as a social worker, and writing a book. My backup plan, should I not get into grad school, was to publish the book, so when I was rejected from every school I applied for, I said ok, bring it on, I’m going to publish my book.

The book got published. The book, “Inside the Insane” exposed the on goings in the ward and I got in big trouble with the Department of Mental Health for writing it. I was disciplined, I was involuntarily removed from my job, the whole thing turned into a massive ordeal. I’m not going to get into the details but you can read about it online if you Google “LA Weekly Erica Loberg.” Did I let the government stop me? No. Did I give up on writing? No.

Last month, I had two books published,”What Men Should Know About Women” and, “Screaming at the Void.” Looking back, I’m thankful I didn’t get into any PHD program. I probably wouldn’t be sitting on awesome books right now. I’d be a robot working for the man, sucked into a system that all starts with a SAT test.

So what do you take from my story. You don’t give up, you don’t let a standardized test make your destiny, you follow your heart and your gut, and if it’s meant to be, it will happen. The second you allow a test, or some teacher tell you you can’t, you turn around and say, I can. Like President Obama said, you can’t measure intelligence by filling in the correct bubble, so look at it this way, if you’re score is low well, you might just end up being a cutting edge writer!!

I recently mailed my latest books to those two Professors that rooted for me. We still keep in touch. I also have another book coming out. I have evolved into a poet. Poetry?! Now THAT’S a moneymaker! People say poetry doesn’t sell, and people don’t read anymore. So, what do I do?

I started filming my poetry and publishing it online.  If we live in an age of technology, and I’m trying to get people to care about poetry, you adapt. It might be outside of my comfort zone but you do what you have to do. If you have time, go on YouTube or Twitter or Face Book and check out my work. You might find it interesting.  You might find poetry something cool, and important. Now, are my books selling? Not much. Not yet. Do I understand social media and to the max?  Ah…no. But, I’m doing my best to navigate through it to try and get heard.

So, at the end of the day, like my story reveals, you follow your heart, you don’t let some test determine your worth or future, and you just keep on going.

Some day, I’ll be a household name as a modern day poet. I’ve gotten this far. So, thank you SAT. Thank you for your measure of intelligence and success. Thank you for allowing me to achieve my dream as a writer cause I sucked so bad at filling in that stupid bubble!



Test form photo available from Shutterstock

Standardized Testing: How I Got Into College, How I Didn’t Get Into Grad School.

Erica Loberg

Erica Loberg was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She attended Columbia University in New York and graduated with a BA in English. She is a published poet and author of Inside the Insane, Screaming at the Void, What Men Should Know About Women, What Women Should Know About Men, Diamonds From The Rough and Undressed.

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APA Reference
Loberg, E. (2015). Standardized Testing: How I Got Into College, How I Didn’t Get Into Grad School.. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Oct 2015
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