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The Test-Optional Trend and Top-Tier Colleges

IvySelect has become a successful college admissions consultancy by guiding students to gain admission to Ivy League and other top-tier institutions. At the start of each engagement with a new student, we learn about them and collaborate in developing a comprehensive college admissions strategy for them as individuals.

As part of this process, we help our students to devise a plan to schedule and prepare for the SAT and ACT exams, if they haven’t yet taken standardized tests or want to re-take them to improve their scores. We advise students to take one or both of these exams. However, in recent years students have been able to decide if they wish to withhold scores from some of the elite institutions they may wish to attend. This choice is available due to the recent growth of the test-optional movement.

Because college administrators are concerned that test score data reflects a linear relationship with socioeconomic status, many have adopted test-optional or test-flexible policies as a remedy. They have decided that placing too much emphasis on the results of a single standardized test unfairly impairs the chances of admission for minority students. It is important to note that a policy that limits the importance of the tests also serves the interests of students of any socioeconomic bracket who don’t perform well under the stress of high-stakes exams and would rather rely more heavily on their high school academic record.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit organization that operates under the name FairTest, seeks to end what they consider to be the unfairness of standardized college admissions tests, specifically the SAT and the ACT. FairTest tracks colleges and universities that have adopted test-optional or test-flexible policies. FairTest defines test-optional schools as those that don’t require ACT or SAT scores as an essential part of a student’s application. Test-flexible schools give students the choice of submitting scores from either the SAT or the ACT.

Starting from only a relatively few schools a decade ago, FairTest now lists more than 800 institutions, most of which are test-optional and some of which are test-flexible. It’s of benefit to many students who seek to attend a top-tier school that some top national liberal arts colleges and universities in the 2017 U.S. News & World Report college rankings have test-optional policies, as listed below:

Middlebury Colby Hamilton
University of Rochester New York University Colorado College
Smith Wesleyan (CT) University of Texas – Austin
Bard Bates Bowdoin
Brandeis Bryn Mawr Connecticut College
Wake Forest Mt. Holyoke Sarah Lawrence
Skidmore Pitzer Trinity (CT)

Beginning with its 2015 freshman class, Hampshire College, a liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts, stopped accepting SAT or ACT scores from applicants altogether. If submitted, scores are disregarded. The college has found that without test scores, it has selected freshman classes that are more highly qualified by other measures than its previous classes have been. An unfortunate result of Hampshire’s no-test policy is that U.S. News dropped the school from its 2017 college rankings because test score averages are a mandatory data element in their ranking computation. This situation should be remedied by U.S. News. No school wants to suffer being deleted from a popular ranking resource because they’ve made what they consider to be a beneficial change to their admissions policies. The same is true for the other college rankings services that hold test scores to be a mandatory factor in their rankings computation. A footnote about the unavailability of average test scores should suffice.

Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C., went test-optional in 2009 when the admissions committee determined that the SAT measured family income more than academic ability. Before Wake Forest dropped its test requirement, underrepresented minorities made up 12% of the freshman class. Six years later, they had risen to 16%. Wake Forest administrators learned that, although a test-optional policy doesn’t automatically increase diversity, it’s a good first step toward removing discriminatory barriers. Even so, some observers have found Wake Forest’s increase in diversity to be misleading. In one study, the majority of non-submitters were white, upscale students with access to high quality college admissions consulting services and advice,.

IvySelect’s array of college admissions support services benefits all types of students, from those who do extraordinarily well in standardized tests to those who aren’t able to perform up to their full abilities. Students hire us for our thorough knowledge of elite American institutions, knowledge that includes the weight, if any, that each school’s admissions policy assigns to test scores. Your IvySelect consultant specializes in identifying and cultivating the best of what you have to offer as a student and as a person. Then we make sure that you apply to those elite institutions that fit you best in all respects.

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