ACT/SAT Optional Colleges List Soars to 280

University Testing

(Read about Muhlenberg's experience below...)


At least 280 four-year college and university campuses now have policies which do not use ACT or SAT results to make admissions decisions for many applicants, according to a new FairTest survey. That figure represents an increase of nearly four dozen test score optional schools since a similar count in 1995 and a rise in the total by almost one hundred since 1994.


The current ACT/SAT optional list includes highly selective private liberal arts schools, such as Bates, Bowdoin, Dickinson and Lafayette, as well as public universities in several states including Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Oregon and, most recently, Texas (see Texas Trumps Hopwood).


The growing test score optional movement reflects increasing concerns that reliance on ACT and SAT results limits the diversity of applicant pools, excludes many young people whose talents are not reflected by multiple-choice tests and favors students who can afford expensive coaching courses. Many of the schools on the FairTest list have conducted their own studies which show that standardized tests do little to increase the ability of their admissions officers to predict success at their institutions.


In addition to the 280 schools on the list, FairTest found that hundreds of other undergraduate institutions have deemphasized standardized exams in their admissions processes but have not yet taken the step of dropping their test score requirements.


For a free printed copy of the updated list, send a stamped, self-addressed to "Tests Optional" at FairTest. Both a state-by-state and an alphabetical listing of these schools are also available.


Test-Scores Optional in Practice -- Muhlenberg College

Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which joined the list of schools no longer requiring applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores in 1996 (see Muhlenberg, Examiner, Summer 1996), recently published a "Questions and Answers" factsheet explaining its new policy. Among its key points that are likely to be valid for many colleges:


Why make the SAT or ACT optional? "We were concerned that standardized tests had come to occupy too much space in the middle of the college admissions process, both on the part of students, who often imagine that the SAT carries greater weight than it really does in the selection process, and on the part of colleges, which may be forced by the current rating and ranking mania to become more SAT-driven in admissions decision-making in order to protect profiles, rankings, etc. We also wanted to offer encouragement to groups of students who are under-represented on many selective college campuses . . ."


Does this imply a lowering of standards? "This does not imply a lowering of standards at Muhlenberg. In fact, the decision was finalized during the 1995-96 admissions year which saw a record number of Early Decision and overall applications to Muhlenberg and a record-large freshman class."


What about the predictive power of the SAT? "The College Board's own data indicates that the high school record remains the single best predictor of academic success in college. . . the negative or exclusionary impact of the SAT falls most heavily on minority and low income groups of students because they tend to score lower of the test . . . . The fact that the tests may be susceptible to coaching certainly removes an element of 'standardization' and gives further advantage to those who are affluent enough to afford coaching."


A final thought. . . "Our hope is that the decision to move to a test-optional admissions policy will give some of the power back to students in the college admissions process . . . On a number of levels, we hope that this new policy will reinforce the kind of active, thoughtful, engaged intellectual participation we expect from our students once they are members of this college community."