Test-optional Colleges?

College is a business. Hence, colleges and universities market themselves to attract the widest selection of students. Within the past decade, a few colleges have indicated that they are “test optional,” meaning that they do not require applicants to take the SAT or ACT. That number is a small fraction of the American institutes of higher learning. On the Bloomberg.net site, Kathleen Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board, acknowledged, “There are about 1,600 four-year, nonprofit colleges in the U.S. and fewer than 5 percent don’t require a standardized entrance exam for admissions.” On July 19 Bloomberg.net revealed that this statistic may be misleading because some of these “test optional” institutions actually buy names from the College Board to help them in their selection process.

Most of the information that admissions officers receive about students is subjective. Admissions boards have the unenviable task of sorting out the accuracy of grade point averages, teacher recommendations, interviews, and application essays. The SAT and ACT serve as the only national standards that universities can employ to assess applicants.

Students who provide biographical information when they take the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, can choose not to participate in the company’s search service. The College Board and ACT, Inc. sell names to about 1000 colleges and universities. The dean of enrollment at Smith College (a purported “test optional college”) shared that within the past academic year, the school paid the College Board $20,000 for names of above-average students, “which might be inconsistent” with its stated policy.

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, which neither requires the tests nor buys names maintains, “Students are being duped by some schools into thinking that test scores don’t matter, when they matter a great deal for marketing outreach and prestige. . . Test-optional colleges that buy names of high-scoring students are hypocritical.”

The article goes on to reveal, “Another benefit to test-optional colleges of recruiting students with high test results is that it can help raise their average entrance-exam scores, a metric used in determining some national rankings and a measure of prestige. Since students who don’t test well may refrain from submitting scores, that leaves high performers, or those who can afford prep courses and pay fees to retake the test several times, to bolster a school’s average scores.”

Caveat emptor: Before applying to a “test-optional” university (such as those in the list below), applicants should do some research to ascertain if that school is truly SAT-free. Otherwise, they may decide to register for the next test—just to be sure.

American University
Bates College
Bowdoin College
Denison University
Dickinson College
Mount Holyoke College
Pitzer College
Smith College
Union College
University of Arizona
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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