Test-optional admissions policies advance

A growing number of colleges are no longer requiring standardized exam scores for student applications

It’s been the “best year ever for test-optional higher ed admissions,” declares the mid-September announcement from The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which promotes fair, open and educationally beneficial evaluations of students, teachers and schools. So far in 2019, FairTest’s master database has added 47 colleges and universities that have decided students can apply without submitting ACT or SAT standardized exam schools, bringing the total of accredited, bachelor-degree institutions with such policies to 1,050.

More than half of the U.S. News “Top 100” liberal arts colleges now have ACT/SAT-optional policies, FairTest reports. So do a majority of colleges and universities in the six New England states and several other jurisdictions including, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

“The past year has seen the fastest growth spurt ever of schools eliminating ACT/SAT requirements,” said FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer. This summer, the pace has been more than one additional school per week.

A few of the latest test-optional policies are at:

Law school admissions: GRE instead of LSAT

Law schools are unlikely to ever make standardized test scores optional, but over the past few years some have begun to accept GRE scores as an alternative to the traditional LSAT.

The University of Akron School of Law has just joined the 46 other law schools across the country in implementing the policy, according to the school’s dean, Christopher J. Peters. It’s the only U.S. law school with annual tuition of under $25,000 to begin accepting GRE scores.

Accessibility is behind the trend, since many more students take the GRE. Having those scores accepted allows students to consider law school along with other graduate programs without extra time and resources.

  • Hardin-Simmons University (Texas), which, through its Recommended Scholars Admissions Program, is allowing local applicants to have counselors or principals recommend them in place of submitting SAT or ACT scores.
  • Hendrix College (Arkansas), where officials seek to break the belief in the “popular narrative that has taken root in the minds of many around the country that the test is a make-or-break factor in admissions decisions at all institutions”—and also to “re-center college choice around fit and joy.”

In an April/May 2019 UB report on the test-optional trend, Mike Reilly of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers said he hopes leaders of colleges deciding to implement related policies think through their goals and processes. “To be truly holistic,” added Reilly who is executive director, “you want every piece of evidence that you can get, and the tests can add to that.”

Another UB story on the movement noted the significance of The University of Chicago—a highly selective research institution—going test-optional in 2018. For fall 2019, the report noted, prospective students were invited to submit a two-minute video in their admissions package about why they’re passionate about attending. “They will review examples of nonstandardized, non-curriculum-based accomplishments and work that the student is proud of,” said Ted Dintersmith, a change expert focused on issues related to education, innovation and democracy. “When a school like Chicago does that, it’s a pretty big deal.”


FairTest’s frequently updated directory of test-optional, 4-year schools

List of test-optional schools ranked in the top tiers by U.S. News & World Report

Chronology of schools dropping ACT/SAT requirements

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB. 

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