ACT/SAT Exodus Accelerates

University Testing
Hardly a month now passes without at least one additional selective college announcing that it will no longer require students to submit ACT or SAT scores before admissions decisions are made. Recent decisions by Providence College in Rhode Island and the upstate New York combined campuses of Hobart and William Smith Colleges mean that fully one quarter of the top 100 "Best Liberal Arts Colleges" in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings, are now test score "optional." All told, more than 735 accredited, bachelor-degree granting institutions do not require SAT or ACT scores from significant numbers of applicants (for the full list, click here).


At both new additions to the test-score optional list, the new rules are effective immediately for all students seeking admission beginning with the class that enters in September 2007. Hobart and William Smith is rated among the nation's "more selective" liberal arts colleges, while Providence College is a top master's level university.


Hobart and William Smith President Mark Gearan explained the new policy: "A close review of what we value the most in students showed that the SAT adds little to our assessment of curiosity, conscientiousness and critical thinking. . . We consider student essays, personal interviews, and parent recommendation letters. When we admit a student . . . we know the person. This modification in our admissions policy more fully acknowledges our approach."


Provost Teresa Amott added, "At Hobart and William Smith, our brightest students shine through their high school transcripts, while SAT scores turn out to be a much weaker predictor of future academic achievement . . ."


Hobart and William Smith officials also noted the impact of coaching in expanding the disparity in standardized test scores faced by low-income and minority students. "I think this broadens our pool . . . within the community of kids who might not have applied," said Vice President of Enrollment Don Emmons.


At Providence College, the new policy will be piloted for four years, then evaluated before permanent implementation. Reverend Brian Shanley, the college president, cited three factors leading to the change: the weakness of test scores, compared to the rigor of the high school curriculum, as a predictor of academic performance; a desire to attract more minority and first-generation students; and inequities in the college admissions process. "From a moral point of view, the idea that if you have the economic resources to take a test prep course and it gives you a competitive advantage over students who can't take the test - - there is something wrong about that," Rev. Shanley told the Providence Journal Bulletin.


In the official Providence College announcement, Rev. Shanley elaborated, "While we have always emphasized a holistic review of students' credentials for admission, there is mounting evidence that students and their parents, more than ever before, have become overly focused on improving standardized tests scores."


Rev. Shanley also praised the success of test-score optional policies at other selective colleges. "I talked to the president of Holy Cross about it, and he said they have really increased their applicant pool and diversity. We think we're at the crest of a wave that a lot of other schools will follow." The College of the Holy Cross dropped its test score requirement last year.


Recent news reports that Eckerd College in Florida had also dropped its test score requirements are not accurate, at least not yet. A statement by Laura Martin, Eckerd's Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid explains, "Eckerd is currently considering becoming test optional; however, this change in our admissions policy has not been approved by our faculty. . . We are working toward a test optional policy but do not anticipate this change in policy to be in place, if approved, prior to fall 2007." FairTest respects Eckerd's internal decision-making process and looks forward to adding the college to the ever-growing list of optional colleges and universities, if that becomes appropriate.