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College Admissions: Schools Continue to Drop SAT/ACT Requirement

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

 

This week, Roger Williams University became the latest college to adopt a test-optional policy, allowing students to apply without SAT or ACT scores. RWU joins more than 850 colleges - including Central MA's WPI, Holy Cross, Clark and Anna Maria- from around the country that have decided to de-emphasize standardized test scores in their admissions process. The trend began in 1969 with Bowdoin College in Maine; other colleges began to follow. Today, many of the most

competitive liberal arts colleges in the nation are test-optional, as well as a growing number of Catholic colleges and mid-sized schools like American University in Washington, DC. In New England, competitive test optional colleges include: Bates, Bennington, Bowdoin, Clark, Colby, Connecticut College, Fairfield, Hampshire, Holy Cross, Middlebury, Mt. Holyoke, Providence College, Smith, Stonehill, St. Michael’s, Trinity, Wheaton and WPI.

Why SATs Used to Matter

While the SAT and ACT do have some merit in admissions, they are losing ground as a benchmark. Originally, they were thought to be a good indication of success in college. However, studies now show that the best predictor of how a student will do in college is his/her high school grades. That being said, it can be difficult to measure how rigorous one school’s biology class and grading system is vs. another. So, the SAT and ACT have always been a way to “level the playing field” and assess students with a standard measure. However, in recent years, the preponderance of AP courses is giving colleges the ability to do this in another way, since the curriculum and testing for an AP course are standardized. Add to that a growing emphasis on extra-curricular accomplishments in admissions, and some colleges feel that they can make solid decisions on candidates without SATs or ACTs.

The Reasons Behind Going “Test Optional”

The truth is that colleges drop testing requirements for different reasons. Some, like Providence College, have done it to attract a more diverse student body. Since minorities and women statistically score lower on the SAT, removing the requirement makes a college more accessible to those students. Colleges that emphasize visual and performing arts, like Sarah Lawrence and Bennington, have often removed testing requirements to attract highly talented “right brain” students for whom testing may be an obstacle. They would prefer to evaluate a student based on grades, extra-curricular activities and portfolios or auditions. And finally, some colleges adopt test optional policies to compete with similar nearby institutions. In states like Pennsylvania, most liberal arts colleges have opted to join the Fairtest movement. Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, Gettysburg, Franklin & Marshall, Juniata, Susquehanna, Ursinus and Washington & Jefferson are all test optional in PA.

Is It Harder Without Scores?

It is important to note that while many colleges are dropping standardized testing requirements, it doesn’t mean there is a garden path to top colleges like Holy Cross and Middlebury if you have low test scores. The reality is that even at test optional schools, most students submit scores. Bowdoin points out on their website that only 15-20% of applicants submit their applications without SATs or ACTs. And is it harder to be admitted to an elite school when you opt to apply sans SATs or ACTs? Most colleges will tell you “no”. As a private college advisor, based on what I see, you will need to be closer to the top of a college’s GPA range, have taken multiples AP and honors classes, and possess a very robust extra-curricular resume. Also, remember that some colleges base merit aid, in part, on SAT scores. So, you will find that many test optional schools will still require scores for full scholarship consideration.

The Fairtest movement has a steady momentum, and in recent years they have started to diversify by attracting larger schools like De Paul and top technical colleges like Worcester Polytechnic Institute. What you won’t see on the list though are most state universities or larger private universities, like BU, NYU or Syracuse…..but maybe one day!

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.

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