Is Dropping the SAT/ACT Requirement the New Norm?

SUNY Purchase has decided to adopt a new test-optional policy for prospective students. Will other schools follow suit? Tell us what you think in our poll.


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Courtesy of Purchase College, SUNY

Applying to college is no simple task. Prospective students must finish high school classes, maintain a good GPA and class ranking, all while filling out college applications, writing essays, and preparing for the dreaded SAT or ACT. Sounds stressful, right?

Well, if SUNY Purchase College has anything to say, that's all about to change. The college recently revamped their admissions policy to "test-optional" in terms of submitting SAT/ACT scores, meaning students applying to Purchase can choose to submit scores or to leave them out.

Over 950 other institutions of higher education in the United States have also seen the benefits of test-optional admissions, including Emerson, Dickinson, Skidmore, and Dominican College, which all recently switched their admission policies.

According to a statement made by Purchase, the new admissions strategy aligns with a commitment to wider access, mitigates the advantages of pre-test coaching that some applicants may have over others, and acts as a response to the growing concerns over the stress of the college admissions process. Studies have shown that high school GPA is the greatest predictor of college success following family income.

Not all colleges in the area feel the same as Purchase does in terms of using SAT/ACT test scores as an admissions factor. Kelly Harrington, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for Vassar College, doesn’t see the school walking away from SAT and ACT test scores any time soon, due to the standardized measurement it provides when schooling backgrounds vary from student to student.

“I think we typically do things inline with our peer institutions. Certainly institutions like Yale and Harvard are not test-optional, so I don’t think Vassar will follow suit in terms of going test-optional,” explains Harrington.

Iona College's Brother Jason Ford, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, spoke similarly about Iona’s admissions process using SAT and ACT scores as a secondary measure of an applicant’s potential success at the institution.

“They have a variety of reasons why they might think what they think; I’m not on their staff,” says Ford. “I think it’s eliminating a potential or helpful tool to see the greater picture of what a student is capable of.”

While Purchase has always looked beyond test scores when considering students for admission, officially changing the policy matches their holistic review process emphasizing accessible, fit, and talent-driven assessment which result in higher academic achievement and graduation rates.


Courtesy of Purchase College, SUNY

For the past two years, candidates applying to the college have been required to respond to the following prompt:

Purchase College’s motto is ‘Think Wide Open’. It’s our way of learning, teaching, and being, and so much more. By choosing Purchase, students make a conscious decision to join an intense community with a deep respect for individuality and diversity and an unparalleled environment of creativity and innovation. As an applicant, we want to know what Think Wide Open means to you.

Responses to this prompt can be in the form of an essay, video, or previously graded work on which a student has earned a B+ or better. The work must be original and is expected to connect to the Think Wide Open motto broadly or specifically. Purchase evaluates students’ answers on the basis of merit, organization, creativity, originality, purpose, and clarity.

The idea is that pieces, such as the Think Wide Open prompt, can yield more information about a student than standardized test scores ever could. The first year Purchase implemented their policy saw the yield of the incoming class increase by 3 percentage points.

Another local school, Dominican College, also recently switched to a test-optional policy. Joe Ahlstrin, Director of Admissions, is happy to see another institution change its standardized test policy noting the similarities between Purchase and Dominican for making the modification.

“Obviously if [students] are happy with how those test scores represent their academic abilities, by all means they have the opportunity to send them. But otherwise, I think it’s great that more institutions like Dominican and Purchase are looking to do a much more holistic review rather than on a number if you will,” says Ahlstrin.

Particular weight will be given to a student’s GPA, class rank, courses taken, evidence of leadership and motivation, and any supplemental items provided by the students, as well as the quality of their chosen college preparatory academic program when determining academic ability and college readiness at Purchase College. The expectation is that the policy change along with the required Think Wide Open submission will produce the following results: increase the number of applicants, improve selectivity, greater diversity, more timely admissions decisions, and increase the number of incoming students for whom Purchase is the first choice.

Applicants who already submitted SAT or ACT scores can choose to have them considered or request that they not be taken into account with the rest of his/her application during the review process. That choice may also be indicated on the Purchase section of the Common Application or the SUNY Supplemental Form. If any student has concerns about submitting or not submitting test scores, consulting with the admissions staff is always welcomed.

The change in policy at Purchase College is set to begin this fall.


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