Four More Colleges Go Test Optional

University Testing


FairTest Examiner - July 2007


Four additional colleges - Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Rollins, Wilson, and Georgian Court - announced test-optional policies this spring. This expands to nearly 740 the number of accredited, bachelor-degree granting schools which do not require substantial portions of their applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores before admissions decisions are made. (see the full list here).

In the last two years, more than two dozen institutions have become test-optional. Recent "converts" include 13 of the nation's top 100 liberal arts colleges, according to U.S. News & World Report.

WPI is the first nationally-ranked science and engineering university to drop admissions testing requirements. Dennis Berkey, president of WPI, explained, "By instituting an SAT-optional admissions policy, WPI is taking bold action to attract a broader range of young people, including those from underrepresented communities, who we believe can succeed at the university and contribute their talents to solving problems around the world." He added, "Internal studies have shown that SAT scores comprise the least predictive element of a student's success at WPI."

WPI Associate Vice President for Enrollment Kristin Tichenor cited additional research finding that the highest achievers at the school did not necessarily have top SAT scores. "The students who are most successful at WPI are those with high motivation levels, willingness to take initiative and creativity in solving problems," she said. A recent validity study by the College Board, the sponsor of the SAT, found that the best predictor of student performance at WPI was a student's high school grade point average.

Under WPI's new "Flex Path" admissions policy, applicants who do not submit ACT or SAT scores may substitute examples of academic work or extracurricular projects "that reflect a high level of organization, motivation, creativity and problem-solving ability." These include science project write-ups, research papers, mechanical design concepts, descriptions of entrepreneurial activities, and portfolios. The impact of the new admissions policy will be evaluated after five years.

At Rollins, a highly selective liberal arts college located in Winter Park, Florida, applicants will be able to submit a graded paper from a core academic course plus a portfolio of other work instead of test scores. "It is too easy to be distracted by low test scores that are not accurate predictors of a student's college academic potential," said Rollins Dean of Admission David Erdmann. "We want to take a more holistic approach and believe that a candidate's academic record, level of challenge in course work, talents, interests, and potential to contribute to the Rollins' and local community should be as important, if not more important, than test scores."

Rollins President Lewis Duncan also noted the impact of coaching in undermining the value of test scores. "The economic bias weighed on us," he said. "Not every prospective student has the opportunity to take the exam multiple times and certainly not the means to take the preparatory courses." Rollins is Florida's oldest college and is consistently rated one of the top regional schools in the South.

The new test-optional admissions process at Wilson, a women's college in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, will apply to all applicants with a high school grade point average of 3.0 or above in a college preparatory curriculum. According to Wilson Director of Admissions Mary Ann Naso, "Standardized tests have never been a measure of motivation, creativity, leadership - all of the qualities you look for in a good student. All of the studies show that the best predictor for success in college is the high school transcript." The new policy will be evaluated after four years.

All applicants to Georgian Court University, a Catholic women's school in Lakewood, New Jersey, will be able to decide whether to have their test scores considered. "Making SAT/ACT optional eases the admissions process for many students. It takes away anxiety and excessive reliance on standardized tests," said Georgian Court Provost Joseph Gower. Commenting on the role of ACT and SAT scores, Gower concluded, "We find they are more of an obstacle than a help."