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23July2013

Test Optional Colleges

by Originally Published in Hindustan Times Education Supplement

Very soon students who took the SAT on June 1st will get their results. For students who have scored well, this will open a new chapter and give clarity on U.S. colleges within the dream, target, and safety range. For students who did not score well, it can be an extremely discouraging moment in the college application process. But don’t despair – while the U.S. has traditionally been the leader in the pesky standardized test requirement, lately several colleges have revised their policy and introduced ‘test optional’ applications for very good reasons.

 

According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, there are 850 colleges in the US that are testing optional. This means that either the college will totally ignore your SAT or ACT score, or they will not give much value to the scores if provided. In any case an SAT score is not required to complete your application.

 

The leader in the test-optional application movement over the past several years has been Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Nationally ranked number 27 overall by US News and World Report (and ranked 15th among undergraduate business programs by Business Week), Wake Forest’s test optional stance was led by its Professor of Sociology, Dr. Joseph Soares, whose book, The Power of Privelege, argues that SAT scores predict little else than family income – e.g. those who score well are usually from affluent backgrounds where students can afford test preparation.

 

Following Wake Forest, several other (and some even more highly ranked) liberal arts colleges as well as public universities in the US do not consider, or give minimal weight, to SAT scores. Colleges claim that disregarding SAT scores introduces more fairness and equity in the applicant evaluation process. According to these institutions, evaluating students’ course grades, community activities and individual skills like sports and art as well as overall character, offer a more uniform criteria for understanding how students will fit in to their college campus culture.

 

Some quotes from admissions officers from colleges with test-optional policies offer a window on why they do not require test scores: “We look at every applicant in the context of the opportunities she’s had available to her and what she has made of them” (Smith College); The policy “gives prospective students the opportunity to choose materials that best showcase their individual strengths and preparation for college work” (Baldwin-Wallace College); “[Our] academic program offers students the opportunity to develop their own interests.We’re looking for independent-minded students who are ready to take advantage of that opportunity. Standardized tests don’t really help us identify those students. Nor do they help those students identify us.” (Marlboro College). These quotes make it clear that colleges are not doing away with standardized testing simply to attract more applicants – they are doing it to attract the right kind of applicants.

 

One thing to keep in mind is that even if you are not a great tester and you do not expect much from your SAT score, it may still a good idea to have a recorded score in your back pocket. Sometimes colleges ask for the score if you don’t meet their grade requirements, or they may want your scores to guage your aptitude and place you in classes once you enroll. Also SAT scores are often required if you are being considered for scholarships.

 

To learn more about test-optional colleges in the US and see a complete listing go to: http://www.fairtest.org/

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