One-Third of U.S. Colleges/Universities Now Test-Optional

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, November 2009

The number of test-optional institutions in the U.S. has soared past the 830 mark, as five more schools – Agnes Scott, Assumption, Sacred Heart, SUNY Pottsdam, and Washington & Jefferson – have announced they are dropping ACT/SAT requirements.  About one-third of all accredited colleges and universities in the country now do not require all or many applicants to submit test scores before admissions decisions are made.

The faculty of Agnes Scott College, a selective women’s school in Decatur Georgia, voted last spring to launch the new test-optional policy. Associate Professor of Mathematics Jim Wiseman explained, “We find that for many of our students, standardized test scores aren’t the best predictors of success... We want high school students to focus on their classes and personal growth, not on their test-taking ability.” English Professor Christine Cozzens added, “Going test optional is evidence of our confidence in our highly individualized admission process and our desire to see every applicant as a whole, complex person with many gifts and qualities and not as numbers.” Applicants who do not submit test scores must either have an interview with an Agnes Scott representative or submit a graded writing sample from a high school class.

Assumption College joins the College of the Holy Cross and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in a “cluster” of highly selective, test-optional schools located in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester. Evan Lipp, Assumption Vice President for Enrollment Management, said, “In 2008, our enrollment management division, in conjunction with Eduventures, a research and consulting firm, analyzed four years of Assumption’s admissions data and academic records to examine standardized testing’s ability to predict academic success specifically for the students we admit. The study found that high school GPA (cumulative grade point average) is, in fact, a better predictor of academic success at Assumption.”

After several years of study, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, has adopted a test-optional admissions policy. In a letter to the community, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Karen Guastelle wrote, “Our comprehensive research on this topic supports that the SAT/ACT are no longer valid predictors of first-year college student GPA, and that high school GPA combined with the strength of students’ college preparatory coursework are of the utmost importance in predicting student success in the first year of college.” All applicants will now be required to submit a discipline-specific essay. Test scores will be collected after students enroll for use in ongoing research.

The State University of New York (SUNY) Potsdam is the first campus in the state’s higher education system to make submission of admissions test scores optional. According to college President John Schwaller, “We did a study about student success at SUNY Potsdam and the utility of standardized tests in predicting student success, and the results corroborated what the national literature said, which is quite simply that standardized tests are not a good predictor of student success.” Director Admissions Tom Nesbitt explained, “At Potsdam student success is our first priority. Test scores are not always effective measurements of a student’s potential at SUNY Potsdam, and it doesn’t really fit the creative and interdisciplinary culture here.”

At Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, the new test-optional policy reflects a view that “Academic success is driven by engagement with distinguished faculty, involvement in the classroom, diligent study habits and a strong desire to excel. "Testing is only one of many measures of potential academic success and often not the strongest,” according to the school’s website. Director of Admissions Robert Adkins added, “If an applicant feels his or her test score is not an accurate reflection of his or her ability, this is an option. It gives an applicant the opportunity to come to campus and shine.”

A regularly updated list of test-optional schools is available free online at:  Many more colleges and universities are reexamining their admissions requirements, often using FairTest resources, including the landmark report Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit: Enhancing Equity & Excellence in College Admissions by Deemphasizing SAT and ACT Results: