Columbia University, William & Mary Will Use Test-Optional Admissions Indefinitely


Two of the nation’s premier universities – Columbia University and the College of William & Mary – have recently decided to extend their test-optional admissions policies indefinitely. Their announcements add new momentum to a movement to permanently abandon policies requiring students to submit scores on standardized tests like the ACT or SAT as part of the college admissions process.

Columbia University is the first in the Ivy League college to go test optional indefinitely, extending a policy that many colleges across the nation had adopted at least temporarily during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In its announcement, which did not use the word “permanent” to describe the decision, Columbia said that standardized testing is not a required component in its application. “Students who choose not to submit test scores will not be at a disadvantage in our process. We will continue to evaluate all submitted information within an individualized application reviewprocess that considers the unique combination of circumstances shaping each applicant’s journey. The rigor of a student’s curriculum, their academic achievement, and their demonstrated intellectual curiosity will remain central to our review.”

Columbia added that it had designed its application “to afford the greatest possible opportunity and flexibility for students to represent themselves fully and showcase their academic talents, interests and goals.”

Citing the results from a three-year pilot study, William & Mary’s announcement, made on March 1, indicted that it also would continue its standardized test-optional undergraduate admission process indefinitely.

“We want to empower students with more flexibility to demonstrate their talent when applying,” said Associate Vice President for Enrollment & Dean of Admission Tim Wolfe, as part of the announcement. “Our admission process is comprehensive and multi-faceted. As we found through the pilot, we continue to enroll highly qualified students – with or without a standardized test score –capable of succeeding academically and in contributing to the William & Mary community.”

William & Mary began a three-year pilot in 2020 when many high school students had difficulty scheduling SAT or ACT testing. The first test-optional cohort entered the university in fall 2021. A total of 39% of that class had applied without submitting standardized test scores.

The college then tracked the retention and academic success of the class to determine if there were differences between students who submitted test results and those who did not. The results indicated that both groups succeeded academically in the first year and earned similar GPAs. Both groups also showed nearly equal retention rates – about 95%.

Those results tend to undercut the common criticism that universities that have gone test-optional or test-blind have lowered their academic standards or would be admitting too many students who were not qualified to succeed in college.

According to FairTest, a leading critic of standardized testing, more than 1,700 bachelor-degree granting schools are currently test-optional, meaning they give students the power to choose whether ACT/SAT scores will be considered in the admissions process. Another 86 are test-free or test-blind, meaning they will not consider ACT or SAT results in the admissions process even if scores are submitted.

As the peak of the pandemic receded, it was not clear how many colleges would resume their former admission testing requirements or continue with a test-optional policy, which is thought to increase the number, and perhaps the diversity, of an institution’s applicant pool.

Purdue University and MIT made news recently with their announcements to reinstate their standardized testing requirements. But the decisions by Columbia and William & Mary are likely to give a new boost the anti-test trend. Look for more colleges to soon follow suit.

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