One of America’s Top Universities Is Ditching the SAT to Boost Student Enrollment

In hopes of attracting more disadvantaged applicants, the George Washington University is saying so long to the ACT too.

(Photo: Courtesy The George Washington University/Facebook)

Jul 28, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Preparing for and taking the SAT and ACT tests has become a stress-filled rite of passage for American high school students. But on Monday, one of the nation’s most prestigious and competitive universities, the George Washington University, joined the ranks of colleges that will no longer require the high-stakes tests for admission.

The reason for the shift: boosting the enrollment of disadvantaged students.

“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,” Laurie Koehler, senior associate provost for enrollment management and cochair of the access committee, said in a statement. “We hope the test-optional policy sends a message to prospective students that if you are smart, hardworking and have challenged yourself in a demanding high school curriculum, there could be a place for you here.”

Since 2013, more than 40 higher education institutions that are included in U.S. News and World Report’s well-regarded annual ranking of colleges and universities have moved away from requiring the tests, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. But GW is perhaps the most elite private university to drop the exams.

“The test-optional surge recognizes that no test—not the SAT, old or new, nor the ACTis needed for high-quality admissions. Many independent studies and practical experiences have shown that test-optional admission enhances both academic excellence and diversity,” Bob Schaffer, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing said in a statement.

Indeed, the change at the Washington, D.C.–based school indicates a growing understanding within higher-education circles that scores on standardized tests don’t necessarily reflect a student’s academic abilities and intellectual capacity. According to data from the College Board, the creators of the SAT, kids from more affluent backgrounds whose parents have more education tend to score highest.

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Students who come from families that earn more than $200,000 a year score an average of 1,714 on the SAT, nearly 400 points higher than their peers who come from families that live on just $20,000 a year. And if a parent has a graduate degree, a student’s score is, on average, 300 points higher than that of a kid whose mom or dad only graduated from high school.

Nearly 25 percent of children in the United States livesin poverty, and according to Reading Is Fundamental, two-thirds of children who live in low-income homes have no books there. With their moms and dads scraping by in minimum-wage jobs, there isn’t much extra cash for buying books. Thanks to budget cuts, many low-income kids of color also lack easy and safe access to a public library, and when they go to school, studies have shown their teachers have lowered expectations for them.

Meanwhile, their white and Asian peers aren’t as racially segregated into lower-performing schools and often come from families with more cash to pay for test-prep books or classes.

So what will the admissions team at GW look for in a qualified applicant to the freshman class of 2020? How about a few tried-and-true measures of achievement: grades, essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities.