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US: HEIs widen test-flexible policies for international students

A growing number of institutions in the US, which traditionally require the SAT or ACT results for admission, are implementing test-flexible or test-optional policies for international applicants.

NYU, based in Manhattan, is one of the HEIs relaxing application rules. Photo: Flickr/ DARSHAN SIMHA

Several HEIs reported a rise in applications after the policy was introduced

Fordham University, for example, implemented test-flexible policies that allow some international applicants to present alternative exams to the SATs and ACTs, starting in the 2018-2019 admissions cycle.

“Our primary reason for this policy is that tests aren’t available around the world”

“Over the course of the last several admission cycles, many students outside of the US have met with challenges in accessing test sites,” said Patricia Peek, dean of undergraduate admissions. “We, along with other institutions, want to promote access for these students by adopting test-flexible policies.”

Test-flexible policies allow students to submit a variety of standardised test scores in lieu of the SAT or ACT, including SAT subject tests, AP exams, IB scores or A-level exams. There are also a growing movement of institutions that have adopted test-optional policies, which allows students to decide whether they want they want to submit their scores along with their applications.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), more than 1,000 four-year colleges and universities in the United States no longer use the ACT or SAT for admissions purposes and the number is continuing to grow.

This trend towards a more flexible admissions policy was signalled by the University of New Hampshire in June 2018, when it announced it would accept Chinese students with Gaokao qualifications, but without more common international exam criteria to back them up.

Andrew Chen of WholeRen education agency, which sends Chinese students to mainly US institutions told The PIE News he viewed this as a “bold step”.

Some institutions have adopted test-flexible or test-optional policies for all prospective students, while others, such as Fordham, have limited this to international applicants. For international applicants, many institutions are turning to flexible policies due to a growing recognition that standardised tests might not be an accurate reflection of an applicant’s academic ability.

Under its test-optional policy, Southern Methodist University allows students who will graduate high school outside the US to decide whether they will submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their application. However, students who want to be considered for academic merit scholarships still need to submit ACT or SAT test scores for scholarship consideration, according to Wes K. Waggoner, associate vice president for enrolment management.

“We want to remove as many barriers to the application process as possible”

SMU has also recently extended its test-flexible policy to all applicants who graduate from a high school outside the United States, including US citizens.

“Our primary reason for this policy is that these tests are not available consistently around the world. Where they are offered, it may be difficult either physically or financially for students in other countries to travel to a test centre,” Waggoner explained.

“About half of our international students come from mainland China, where students must travel long distances to take the SAT and the ACT is not available. Further, in recent years, large groups of students who are able to take the test may have their scores delayed or cancelled for test-security reasons.”

New York University stands out, as it offers test flexible options for all undergraduate applicants. They accept a variety of standardised tests, including national exams from some countries. NYU also considers predicted IB or A-level scores, among others, but applicants must submit final scores before enrolling.

Like Fordham and SMU, NYU said test-flexible policies have boosted access for international applicants, and their number of international applicants has grown each year since the policy was implemented in 2011.

“Given that many of our international applicants are studying for exams deemed… strong preparation for entry to higher education in their home countries, we found it important to not require them to also study for a US-centric exam at the same time,” said Katie Korhonen, director of global admissions evaluation and strategy.

“We want to remove as many barriers to the application process as possible, and we find our international applicants are able to showcase their academic ability in ways other than by submitting the SAT or ACT.”

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