Test-Optional Admissions List Surges

University Testing

Four more colleges recently dropped all ACT/SAT testing requirements, and another extended its no-tests option, which previously applied only to applicants with top high school grades, to all applicants. The new policies at Gettysburg, Franklin & Marshall, Mitchell, Nazareth and Union colleges bring the number of accredited, bachelor degree-granting institutions on FairTest's "optional" list to 732 (see the full list here). That total now includes 27 of the nation's 100 "Best Liberal Arts Colleges," according to U.S. News & World Report.


After two years of study and debate, the Gettysburg faculty voted to adopt the new admissions policy by a two-to-one margin. "There was lots of healthy discussion," explained Vice President for Enrollment and Educational Services Barbara Fritze. "We had an opportunity here to provide greater access to many students who may not even consider the college based on one single application criteria." Director of Admissions Gail Sweezey added, "We know that there are strong students who are very creative and who don't do as well on the SAT as they would like."


At Franklin & Marshall in Philadelphia, all applicants now have the option of submitted two graded writing samples instead of scores from standardized exams. For the past decade, this policy has applied only to students ranking in the top ten percent of their high school classes or who had a 3.8 cumulative grade point average. The official college announcement explained, "Under the new option, the Office of Admission will take a more flexible approach to recruit students from underrepresented groups who demonstrate potential for success at the college level. The new option is expected to better highlight good candidates whose SAT scores would otherwise have excluded them from consideration."


Kevin Mayne, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing at Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut, said the school's decision to go test-optional reflected decades of admissions experience. "I've found over the years students who score high on SATs aren't successful in college unless they're motivated," Mayne concluded. "As a small college, we take a personal approach and place a lot of emphasis on the 'total' student."


The president of Nazareth College, Daan Braveman, led the move to test-optional admissions at his Rochester, New York, campus. The college website explained the new policy, "The goal is to attract larger numbers of talented, motivated, and interesting students, with high secondary school grade point averages, who believe their standardized test results put them at a competitive disadvantage in the application process. This policy will provide prospective students with choices in presenting their best academic profile."


Since 1987, Union College in Schenectady, New York, has allowed applicants to submit results either from the SAT, the ACT or the College Board's Subject Tests. Beginning this year, no test scores of any sort will be required before admissions decisions are made. "We have learned that the best predictor of academic success is a past record of academic achievement in a demanding, rigorous class," noted Admissions Dean Dan Lundquist. "By deciding to make SATs optional we hope to continue to broaden our reach, and we will certainly not lower our standards."


The growth of test-optional schools - more than a dozen and a half in the last year - indicates the movement may be reaching critical mass. In a front-page article marking the beginning of this year's college admissions season, The New York Times profiled the trend and noted "for many small liberal arts colleges, the SAT may have outlived its usefulness."


FairTest continues to work closely - and confidentially - with admissions professionals and other leaders at more than a dozen institutions considering whether they should continue requiring ACT and/or SAT scores. The number of colleges engaged in this process is growing. At the recent National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) annual conference, Inside Higher Education asked a workshop of undergraduate admissions officers how many worked at colleges which were rethinking their testing requirements and reported "several dozen" "shot up their hands." The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the use of ACT and SAT scores for admissions and scholarships was a dominant issue at the 4,000 person NACAC event, with hundreds of participants jamming into standing-room-only sessions on that topic.