Countdown to College: test-optional update

It was big news last week when George Washington University (GWU) ( in Washington DC announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores.

The reevaluation of the role of standardized testing in the admissions decision process is one of the most noticeable trends in college admissions over the last few decades.

According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest –, 40 colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies since spring 2013. GWU, is one of the largest private institutions to choose to go test optional. GWU has followed the lead of a variety of other selective schools including: Wesleyan, Wake Forest, Brandeis, Bryn Mawr and Bowdoin among others.

Currently more than 800 four-year colleges and universities refer to themselves as “Test Optional” and do not use the SAT or ACT in their admissions process. You can view the entire list of colleges at:

FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer explained, “The test-optional surge recognizes that no test – not the SAT, old or new, nor the ACT – is needed for high-quality admissions. Many independent studies and practical experiences have shown that test-optional admission enhances both academic excellence and diversity.”

With acceptance rates plummeting, including a handful of colleges with single digit acceptance percentages, colleges are quick to point out that their admissions decisions are part of a holistic process, i.e., they are not based on grade point averages and test scores alone.

Here are some of the factors, that colleges consider: rigor of high school coursework, geographic diversity, first-generation, disadvantaged/under-represented minority, grades and standardized tests, exceptional talent/interest, extracurricular activities, leadership, community service, essay(s), interview, legacy status, athletic recruitment, etc.

When acceptance rates were higher, it was standard practice for colleges to require standardized tests, i.e., the SAT or the ACT. Colleges are now more sensitive to students who experience test anxiety and many put more weight on what a student accomplishes in four years of high school academically than what they can demonstrate in a four hour exam.

According to the FairTest website some of the lessons learned from schools that have chosen to go test-optional include:

Dropping tests leads to greater diversity because the focus on test scores deters otherwise qualified minority, low-income, first-generation, female and other students from applying

De-emphasizing tests attracts more students who are academically capable

High school performance – expressed either as grades or class rank – is the best available screening device for applicants

Schools that have made standardized tests optional for admissions are widely pleased with the results. Many report their applicant pools and enrolled classes have become more diverse without any loss in academic quality.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;

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