Test Optional Schools: A Big Mistake

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Senior Alejandro Villar thinks college on his free time.

As it stands today, over 870 American colleges and universities are what have become known as test optional or test flexible, meaning that they don’t require or take into serious consideration scores from the SAT or ACT when admitting applicants.

The list now includes numerous elite, small liberal arts colleges, like Bates College and Bowdoin College, many top arts schools, like California Institute of the Arts, and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and a handful of selective universities, like Wake Forest University and the University of Rochester.

There is a difference  between being test optional and test flexible. Test optional schools do not require any form of testing in order to apply, while test flexible schools simply give a wide range of options when it comes to which scores to send.

Yet, being purely test optional can be detrimental to the admissions process for a handful of reasons.
The SAT is not perfect. The ACT is not perfect. But they’re integral in weighing students from different backgrounds, who attend different schools that have different types of transcripts. Your test scores don’t define you, but they’re a barometer, the only like measure for colleges evaluating students from across the nation.

Schools that get rid of testing requirements cite the inherent unfairness of tests. They hope that dropping tests will result in more applicants, especially if the applicants are otherwise qualified students whose poor test scores discouraged them from applying.

Laurie Koehler, Vice Provost of Enrollment and Retention at George Washington University, explained that their university went test optional because, “The test-optional policy should strengthen and diversify an already outstanding applicant pool and will broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income households.”

“Sometimes kids obsess about test scores,” said Evan Enochs ’17, “which I don’t think they should do. But test scores are important for schools to make sure that you’re the caliber of student that they’re looking for.”

Dropping test scores does not improve diversity. Bowdoin and Bates are still two of the colleges with the largest Caucasian student body in the Northeast. They were before they became test optional, and they still are. Bowdoin is still 66% Caucasian, while Bates is 77%. Only 59% of college students nationwide are Caucasian.

If schools like Bowdoin and Bates really wanted to improve diversity, they would commit more money to financial aid, improve outreach in low-income communities, and decide to weigh test scores more or less depending on the student.

Becoming test optional does not mean that your school will become more diverse or have a smarter student body. Rather, it is counterproductive to a school’s ability to judge each applicant fairly.

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