SAT scores are no longer required at Bryn Mawr College
By Aliya Chaudhry
Standardized test scores have long been considered to be an integral part of the college application. Now, more and more colleges are dropping the requirement, with the number of test-optional colleges growing to over 850, according to FairTest.org.
Bryn Mawr College went test-optional in 2014, making the class of 2019 the first set of applicants who were not required to send in test scores for either the SAT or the ACT.
Four years ago, Bryn Mawr conducted research looking at 10 years of standardized test score submissions along with GPAs, curriculum and how students were judged. The research showed that, “standardized test scores did not give us as much information saying that this was the best indicator of a student’s success,” according to Peaches Valdes, dean of undergraduate admissions at Bryn Mawr College.
The results of Bryn Mawr’s research matched those of a research study conducted by Bill Hiss, a former dean of admissions at Bates College, who found that going test-optional was beneficial for colleges and universities and that transcripts were actually the best indicators of academic success.
Valdes said, “We had institutional data and we had national data and therefore then we launched with going test-optional.”
Standardized tests, particularly the SAT, have been criticized for a number of reasons, including the belief that they test outdated or irrelevant information and are not a reliable indicator of academic ability. In addition, it has been pointed out that minority students and student from lower-income backgrounds perform worse on the SAT than others. Students criticized standardized tests for evaluating test-taking abilities instead of knowledge, ability or skill.
Briana Grenert, a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College said that the SAT is, “not going to test how smart we are but how well we can take the test – that’s all it is.”
She said, “When our scores improved it was when we stopped paying attention to the content and just focused on the form.”
Mary Sweeney, another sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, stated that she believes the preparation involved in taking standardized tests is “overall a waste of time because it just teaches you how to take a test which is not a really important skill.”
Prior to becoming test-optional, Valdes explained that standardized test scores were not an important piece of the application.
“If anything they were a confirmation of a student’s abilities,” Valdes explained.
She explained that test scores were the last thing admissions officers at Bryn Mawr College looked at.
“If we saw a discrepancy… we would always refer back to transcript,” Valdes said.
The application has many components apart from standardized test scores including transcripts, essays, writing supplements and letters of recommendation – all of which provide information about a student. Valdes explained that Bryn Mawr’s admissions office conducts a “holistic review,” meaning that it takes into account every component of the application submitted.
“The way that I see the application, I look at it like a photo album or a scrapbook,” she said, “So it’s this huge piece of material that has so many separate parts that provide a big picture about the student.”
The transcript is seen as one of the most important components of the college application; it provides information about the level of difficulty of courses taken and the grades students received.
“For us, the transcript is going to still be one of the most important pieces because it tells us the student can meet our academic requirements,” Valdes said. “As long we can determine that, everything else is just an added plus.”
However, each high school grades differently. One important purpose of the SAT was to allow admissions officers to judge students’ academic performance given the fact that they attended schools with different grading systems. Dropping the SAT/ACT requirement means not having a standardized measure of academic performance.
The solution is the high school profile, which provides detailed information on a high school’s grading system, courses offered, grade distributions, where students go to college and how many students took AP exams, among other things.
Valdes said, “we consider the high school profile to be the Rosetta Stone; it translates everything.”
For cases in which a high school profile is not available, Valdes said she goes to high schools’ websites and looks at statistics and course catalogs to determine the rigor of academic programs.
“We have to be flexible – this is the curriculum and in the end we’re still able to make a decision whether or not a student has an actual number or a letter grade,” Valdes said.
However, standardized test scores are still required for international applicants to Bryn Mawr, as schooling systems in other countries may differ greatly from the American educational system.
“For Non-US citizens and non-US permanent residents, we still require standardized testing because it standardizes them,” Valdes said.
Valdes says that many students, “under-match,” meaning that don’t apply to schools if they feel that their test scores might not be high enough to grant them admission. Therefore, she believes that being test-optional has encouraged more students to apply.
She said, “I think us being test-optional has allowed students to not under-match anymore and realize that I’m not just a number that the admissions officers are looking at that I have other parts of my application that will show my strengths and abilities.”