By Emily Cyr
On Tuesday, George Washington University announced that students applying there will no longer be required to submit SAT or ACT scores. But the question arises: is this aimed to help applicants or help a university still reeling from admissions scandals?
On the Test-Optional Policy page on their admissions website, the university states it has developed this rule in contingency with its “admissions philosophy of holistic review”, by encouraging students who would otherwise not apply, out of fear their test scores would hinder them. With this policy, the decision to submit test scores is in the hands of the applicants, who can decide whether or not their scores accurately reflect their academic abilities.
In the announcement, the university also sites efforts to broaden the student body as a reason for the change in policy:
“The test-optional policy should strengthen and diversify an already outstanding applicant pool and will broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income households,” said Laurie Koehler, senior associate provost for enrollment management and co-chair of the access committee.
Though the university has garnered a great deal of attention for this new policy, they are certainly not the first to drop test scores. American University, Wesleyan University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Hamilton College are among the schools who have adopted the test optional policy. However, this does not mean fewer students are taking the tests.
For the 2014 year (2015 not available yet), College Board reported there was an overall increase in SAT participation, including minority students whom GWU hopes to attract. College Board has also implemented a fee waiver program, granting more than 78 million dollars so that the college application process is more accessible to lower income students.
Some of these test takers will still be George Washington hopefuls.
Not all prospective students can opt out of the tests for GWU: students applying to their accelerated seven- year BA/MD program, homeschool students, recruited NCAA Division I athletes and students who come from secondary schools with only narrative evaluations (instead of grades), all must submit test scores in their applications.
In the last couple of years, George Washington University has seen some hiccups in its admissions department.
GWU was penalized for inflating its 2011 freshman class statistics, saying 78% of the incoming class were in the top 10% of their high school when the number was actually 58%. It was the university itself that noticed the error and reported the mistake to U.S News & World Report, who then changed the university from a No. 51 ranking in their “Best Colleges” list to unranked for the year. They are currently ranked 54th on U.S. News & World Report National Universities list.
In 2013, the George Washington University school paper, The GW Hatchet , broke a story saying the university’s need-blind admission policy was false. The university reportedly placed students on the waitlist because they could not pay the tuition, demonstrating a need-aware policy.
After problems like these, current students may feel uneasy.
I reached out to current George Washington student, Christian Schaeffer, to see how he felt about the new policy. Schaeffer, a junior in the School of Media and Public Affairs, said “I’m skeptical. We've yet to see how it will impact GW's selectivity, and by extension the value of my degree."
This skepticism of the university is reflected in its admission statistics, where applicants were down following the previously described incidents. For the class of 2014, GWU saw a major decline in applicants: from 21, 789 for the class of 2013 to 18,950 that year. For fall of 2015, the number was 19,781 applications, a clear increase but still significantly smaller than the years prior to the scandals.
So is GWU trying to regain the trust of its applicants and repair its tarnished reputation? Or do they truly believe that college entrance exams are on their way out of college admissions?
The Office of Admissions at George Washington University could not be reached for comment.
What do you think? Should schools require SAT/ACT scores?