Last week, Hampshire College published statistics from its first admissions cycle as a test-blind institution in 2014-15.
While the number of applications dropped from 2600 to 2050, the yield rate increased from 18 percent to 26 percent. In addition, the college also saw an increase in diversity among those who applied; the percentage of minority student applicants increased from 26 percent to 31 percent and the number of international students also increased.
After becoming one of the first colleges to instate a test-optional admissions policy when it opened in 1970, last year Hampshire took its policies one step further and adopted a test-blind policy. Under this system, admissions officers will not consider students’ standardized test scores when reviewing applications. As a result, Hampshire is no longer on U.S. News and World Report’s college ranking, a list that uses standardized tests among other factors to rate American colleges.
“Every time a school makes the decision to go test optional, they come out with a statement that they have learned from research that tests aren’t the best predictors,” Meredith Twombly, dean of enrollment and retention, told InsideHigherEd.com. “I can never figure out why, if they are citing research that tests are not a good predictor, they don’t stop using the tests.”
In place of test scores, Hampshire added two additional essay questions and a graded high school essay to the application.
While Hampshire is currently the only college with a test-blind policy, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, there are 850 schools that are now test-optional, including Bates, Bowdoin and Connecticut College. At Bowdoin, 30 percent of the students who accepted offers in the Class of 2018 chose not to submit test scores. Bloomberg Business cited a similar statistic; 60 to 80 percent of students who apply to test-optional schools send scores with their application.
Other schools are also test-flexible, which means that students have the option of sending in SAT subject test scores or AP scores in lieu of the SAT or ACT.
Middlebury, Hamilton, Colby, Trinity and Colorado College are among the schools with test-flexible policies.
According to Dick Nesbitt ’74, director of admission, Williams is not currently considering a shift to test-optional or test-blind admissions.
Nesbitt explained that while test scores are only one of several factors considered when making academic evaluations about students and although “they aren’t great predictors, test scores actually have some predictive value.” Nesbitt said that standardized test scores are considered in the context of a student’s school and with the knowledge that scores are highly correlated with family income.
The admissions office also considers grade point average (GPA), class rank, subject test scores and teacher recommendations as part of the academic evaluation.
“If there were 100 students that had perfect test scores, we could predict that at least 75 percent would have between a 3.41 and a 4.09 [at Williams],” Nesbitt said. “That’s not that helpful of a prediction.” Nesbitt explained, however, that in conjunction with the other indicators, it can be a useful predictor.
According to the admissions class profile, those accepted into the Class of 2019 had an aver-age SAT score in critical reading, math and writing of 731, 720 and 727 respectively, and an average ACT score of 33.
The students who submit their scores to test-optional schools score on average 100 to 150 points higher than those students applying to the same schools who choose to withhold their scores, according to a 2009 article in the Journal of College Admission. This allows schools to list higher average SAT and ACT scores and therefore see a rise from their previous positions in the U.S. News college rankings.
Nesbitt referenced a study, “Success in College,” conducted by Harvard University professor Warren Willingham who found that multiple-year high school extracurricular involvement pre-dicted academic success in college.This study was of nine institutions, including the College.
Willingham also determined that the interview was a useless predictor of academic success. Williams hasn’t included interviews in the application process for almost 30 years.
“The more data we have, the better we are able to predict academic success,” Nesbitt said. “If we were to only use one or the other, we would lose some of our ability. Again, it’s not perfect and there are students with high academic ratings who under-perform and there are some that have lower academic ratings that over-perform. But when you just look at the average, you can see there is a very strong correlation between our reader rating which incorporates all those factors and GPA.”
Based on one year of data at Hampshire, the number of applications decreased as a result of the test-blind policy. Twombly told InsideHigherEd.com that the decline in applications probably resulted from Hampshire’s absence on the U.S. News ranking.
Nesbitt said that the ranking is “not something we think about when we are admitting a class, but I think it unquestionably helps with international students.” In the most recent ranking, Williams was first for liberal arts colleges.
Although Hampshire found that test-blind admissions increased diversity, according to Nesbitt, in some countries, international students rely more on rankings because university admissions are based solely on test scores.
“There is a misconception that U.S. News and World Report is an official ranking.”
Nesbitt added that low-income students who have limited knowledge about liberal arts colleges also often hear about Williams through this ranking. “I’m not complaining about it. I think it is a wonderful thing that we are number one, but I am realistic that it is based on certain criteria. There are so many great colleges out there and you can’t measure what someone’s experience is going to be by some sort of ranking.”
Sarah Lawrence College is the only other school to experiment with test-blind admissions. Several years after implementing the policy, in 2012, the college switched back to a test-optional approach when the admissions officers decided having a ranking was important to recruitment, according to an article from the same year in Washington Monthly.