Test-optional policies come in many flavors.
This fall, all students who apply to American University by November 1 will not have to submit an ACT or SAT score. Last year, for the first time, the university offered the option only to students who applied under the university’s early-decision plan, which had a November 15 deadline.
The move, announced this week, is part of American’s ongoing review of its testing requirements. Officials there are trying to determine how a full-fledged test-optional policy might affect the university’s applicant pool—and change its evaluation process.
Last fall, American received 538 early-decision applications (a 33-percent increase over the previous year), and 191 of those students did not submit test scores. Over all, the university saw a 48-percent increase in early-decision applications from nonwhite applicants. In turn, early offers to such students increased by 21 percent.
Greg Grauman, American’s director of admissions, says reviewing the applications of those who didn’t submit test scores took twice as much time as evaluating the files of other students. “In absence of tests, we paid greater attention to the number of honors and AP courses, to rigor and intensity,” Mr. Grauman says. “We might have been looking a bit closer at why the rigor wasn’t the strongest.”
By itself, the new “test-optional deadline” of November 1 doesn’t change how quickly applicants will receive a decision. Those who apply as early-decision candidates will get an answer by December 31; regular-decision applicants will get an answer by April 1. The university’s application deadlines for early decision (November 15) and regular decision (January 15) have not changed, so students who wish to submit test scores will follow those deadlines.
American drew some criticism last summer for opening its test-optional program only to the early birds. After all, students who apply under early-decision plans agree to enroll if accepted—a good thing for any college. Some members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling claimed that the policy violated the group’s “Statements of Principles of Good Practice,” which states that colleges will “not offer exclusive incentives that provide opportunities for students applying or admitted early decision that are not available to students admitted under other admission options.”
Mr. Grauman said American’s testing policies were not intended to give students an incentive to apply early, or to get more applications over all, though he acknowledged that the new deadline may well do the latter. “We do wish to increase the number of applicants in our pool who choose not to submit standardized testing, and felt this could be best accomplished by extending the option to all applicants,” he said. “We deliberately chose an early priority deadline to keep the number low, as we would like to see an increase, but are not prepared to go completely test optional.”
Robert A. Schaeffer, public-education director for FairTest, a watchdog group, wrote in an e-mail message that American’s new test-optional policy was an improvement over the previous one because it extended the option to all applicants. “But it may beg the question,” he wrote, “of why the university can make admissions decisions without requiring ACT/SAT results for anyone who applies early in their senior year but needs scores from those who apply later, when those files include an additional semester of high-school grades and cocurricular activities.”