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Standardized Test Scores Optional for New Applicants

By Ladan Nekoomaram

Washington, DC—This fall, American University will not require undergraduate applicants to submit their SAT or ACT scores if they apply for early admissions.  Regular admissions applicants will still need to submit their scores because the program is only taking a sample portion of the American admissions pool. Three percent of American’s undergraduate applications come from early admissions.

“We have chosen to focus on our early decision applicants specifically because it’s a much smaller subset of our 15,000 applications,” said Greg Grauman, acting director of undergraduate admissions. Since 2007, AU’s international students have not been required to submit SAT or ACT scores. He says their performance has helped the admissions office gauge the success of the test-optional program for other students.

“Some questions we’ll look at are, ‘what is the profile of the student who chooses not to submit their test score?’ I think there are assumptions people make. We’ll see how they’re fairing, how did they retain, and what’s their success,” Grauman said. “And as we look at our international students who did not submit test scores and they’ve been admitted, they’ve been successful and competitive students here. So that’s been promising.”

The Office of Enrollment set forth the proposal last year with support from the Office of the Provost. Grauman says the AU community has discussed this issue widely on campus for quite some time.

“It’s no less rigorous a review if one doesn’t have a standardized test score, but probably greater scrutiny will go to elements we already review,” he said.

American University’s move away from the SAT reflects a national trend towards the test-optional application. FairTest, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, reports that nearly 60 schools have moved to the test-optional application process since the SAT took its new form in 2005. Most notably, the University of Colorado, New York University, Wake Forest University, and George Mason University have made the switch. Instead, they require a minimum GPA or class ranking for each applicant. Thirty-nine universities and colleges in the top two tiers of the 2008 U.S. News and World Report’s “Best National Liberal Arts Colleges” have gone test-optional as well.  American’s admissions Web site says the policy will “further emphasize our belief that your academic performance is the most important consideration in our holistic review.”

Robert Schaeffer, director of public education at FairTest, says a growing number of schools have steered away from the standardized test requirement because they find merit in other aspects of a student’s application.
“They realize the test is not needed because they have more than enough information in the application portfolio—class rank, honors, leadership, community service… etc,” he said. However, he did note that FairTest cannot include American University’s pilot program because it includes certain applicants.

Current students object to the discrimination between the early and regular decision applicants, saying some students gain advantage over others.

“It’s like they’re rewarding them for having early decision because they know they want to come to AU, so it’s like they don’t want to have to look at SATs to have to turn them away,” said freshman Bridget Gales. “See, that’s not even fair. To me, that’s AU sucking up to those kids.”

Some students say that regular decision applicants are just as committed about the school as early decision applicants. Giving early decision applicants this advantage would be unfair, says freshman Cornelia Poku.

“ I really was going to do the early admission, but I wanted that essay to be on point, absolutely perfect, no problems with it, and I took it to multiple teachers, and that wasn’t going to happen in time,” said Poku.

Although the undergraduate application could shift with test-optional policy, the issue has not been raised in terms of graduate standardized tests like the GRE, GMAT or LSAT. Jill Grinager, assistant director of graduate services at the School of Communication, says she doesn’t foresee the switch to a GRE-optional program any time soon.

“I don’t anticipate that we will be waiving the GRE for our full-time applicants. We look at everything the graduate applicants submit to our attention, and the faculty are of the opinion that the GRE is a good indicator of a student’s ability to excel at a graduate level,” she said.

The Office of Enrollment will evaluate the program with the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment in the spring of 2010. At this time, they will ask students who did not submit their test scores to send them after they’ve made their seat deposits for further research. Grauman said the admissions office cannot predict the program’s results, nor can they say whether or not the test-optional policy will apply in the future.

“I could not see us even with a beneficial test rate to make the move to go the next cycle with everybody for a while,” said Grauman. “We’d be one of the largest competitive universities if that choice was ever made to do so.”

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