An increasing number of institutions are making themselves “test flexible” – requiring some official test but not limiting it to the standard guard of the ACT or SAT. Some have even declared themselves “test optional” – not requiring any standardised test score other than those that prove the student’s English language level.
At the International ACAC conference in New Jersey this month, professionals on both the high school and university sides of the admission relationship spoke about the changing role of standardised tests in a student’s college application.
New York University, which is the top recruiter of international students in the US, has been text flexible since 2010. Bobbe Fernando, assistant dean and director of international admissions, said the decision to broaden the types of tests considered on university applications was driven by a desire to recognise the academic achievements of international students who didn’t have access to or preparation for traditional US-based tests.
“We’re trying to get the entire story [of a student] in 20-30 minutes. There isn’t any one factor that gets students in”
“We wanted to attract diverse students to our Abu Dhabi campus,” said Fernando, who noted the internationally and economically diverse student body at the overseas campus.
The decision also allowed for increased options for students applying to the New York City campus. “It’s responsible for part of our growth in first-year international students from 13% to 22% in six years,” she said.
Alternative tests accepted by NYU admissions include the French Baccalaureate, the International Baccalaureate, India’s Standard XII, Australia’s ATAR and the UK’s A-levels.
NYU benefits from a global network of offices that can provide regional understanding of high school academic standards. But even smaller universities have opted to be test flexible, relying on grades in college preparation courses, rigour of the student’s curriculum and extracurricular activities as indicators of the student’s ability to succeed at their institution.
“We’re trying to get the entire story [of a student] in 20-30 minutes. There isn’t any one factor that gets students in,” commented Jonathan Burdick, dean of college admission and vice-provost for enrolment initiatives at Rochester University in New York, which hosts about 1,100 international students and is also test flexible.
“We’re getting smarter at knowing what test scores can tell us,” noted Burdick, using the example that “sub-Saharan African students far outperform what test scores predict”.
Wesleyan University in Connecticut, which admits 230 international students, 8% of its undergraduate intake, has opted to be test optional and not require students to submit standardised test scores of any type beyond English language proficiency result.
“The day to day academic work is at the centre of our evaluation of students,” noted Tara Lindros, associate dean of admission.
When the SAT reworked its test, the university reconsidered its testing policy and decided not to require students to submit any form of standardised test if they didn’t desire.
“We wanted students to use their time, energy and money in different ways outside of the standardised testing industry”
“We wanted students to use their time, energy and money in different ways outside of the standardised testing industry,” said Lindros. For Chinese applicants, the institution has been test optional for many years. “We didn’t feel comfortable requiring a test from a county where it wasn’t available,” she said.
The shift away from requiring SATs and ACTs is welcome relief for both parents and students during the the stressful college application phase, said Sheri Neal, a counsellor at the American School of Japan.
“Test flexible allows students to show what they can do – high test scores can counterbalance a low GPA and vice versa,” she said. “The new policies allows us to look at the other soft factors of students.”
Despite the changing attitudes toward standardised tests, among the top 500 four year institutions that enrol international students, a little over half still require some form of standardised test to be admitted.
And two-thirds of international students still submit SAT scores with their applications, according to College Board.