As of winter 2017, more than 925 colleges and universities do not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores when applying, according to FairTest.org. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing offers a list including the “institutions that are “test optional,” “test flexible,” or otherwise de-emphasize the use of standardized tests by making admissions decisions—without using SAT or ACT scores.
This list includes competitive institutions such as College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. and Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. In the last decade, more institutions have begun exploring “test optional” and “test flexible” policies. A test-optional policy generally means that a student is not required to submit test scores during the application process, but there are varying degrees of “test optional.” An institution that is completely “test-blind” will not require test scores at all; however, other schools only exempt students from submitting scores if “they meet minimum grade-point average or class rank criteria.” Test-flexible schools allow applicants to submit a variety of standardized test scores. For example, New York University accepts seven different test options, such as Advanced Placement scores.
Dr. Daniel Sullivan, a veteran guidance counselor at Norwalk High School, offers a nuanced look at the testing topic. “A lot of research indicates day-to-day performance predicts future success,” Sullivan says. “Some students do very well in the classroom but historically don’t test well. Having test optional schools is helpful for these students.” He explains that it also forces college board and test prep organizations to make changes in how they run things. “Kaplan and Princeton Review are finding that they must modify their more prohibitive elements. Some organizations have even begun offering free tutorials. Overall, it gives students more flexibility.” Further extolling the positives of SAT-optional schools, Sullivan says that in choosing not to require the standardized test, institutions are considering student applicants “more holistically.”
Additionally, he addresses the inherent bias of the test and asserts that “SAT-optional universities can help level the playing field for minority and first generation applicants.”
Fairfield University has been a test optional school since 2009, and, according to Alison Hildenbrand, director of undergraduate admissions for the university, their “experience as a test optional institution has largely been a positive one.” Hildenbrand explains the benefits of being a test-optional school from the college admissions perspective: “One benefit is that we are given the opportunity to really put our mission into action. We are challenged to see beyond the numbers and to really try to get to know a student through their application. Because test scores are not a requirement, we also believe that students who would have been discouraged from applying to Fairfield in the past simply because of their test scores are giving us a real look. Anecdotally, students and parents seem to appreciate Fairfield’s test optional policies and our ability to see a student as more than just a test score.”
While the goal of the university is to take a comprehensive look at the whole student by placing emphasis on high school record versus a single test, Hildenbrand acknowledges that there are benefits to using the SAT. “In their purest form, these tests do what they’re intended to do — standardize the process. In cases of students applying from high schools with which we are not that familiar, we are often challenged to get a better sense of how the student will fare in Fairfield’s community. We’ve run into situations in which we’ve tried to connect with high school counselors to better understand the high school program at a certain institution, but in some situations we are unable to get as much information as we’d like about the student and their academic preparation which makes our decision making process a bit more challenging. Had those students submitted test scores, we would have had some sense of how they fit in within the context of our applicant pool, making us feel confident about their academic preparation.”
Peter Foxen, admissions officer at the University of Connecticut, explains the virtues of the test score requirement. “At UConn, we feel that SAT/ACT scores are another very useful, evaluative tool that we are able to use as a part of our comprehensive, holistic review process. Much like a GPA, resume, essay, or letter of recommendation, the SAT/ACT score is another piece of the puzzle that allows us to get as full and clear of a picture of each applicant as possible when it comes to admissions decisions, as well as decisions about merit scholarships and UConn’s competitive Honors Program.” In other words, requiring SAT or ACT scores gives the institution a deeper understanding of the student applicant.
When applying to test-optional or test-flexible schools, it is important to remember that the other aspects of an application will be given more weight in the admissions process. For more information or guidance on SAT/ACT optional institutions, visit http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.