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George Mason’s SAT-Optional Admissions Policy Could Boost Diversity


George Mason University announced this week that it will permit high school seniors with strong academic records to apply for admission without standardized test scores — a policy that could mean improved access to college for under-represented minorities.  

Beginning this fall, seniors with cumulative grade point averages of 3.5 or higher and who rank in the top 20 percent of their class will have the option of being considered for admission without submitting SAT or ACT scores.

“Analysis of Mason’s admissions and enrollment data demonstrate that the SAT is at best a weak predictor of incoming college students’ performance for freshmen who have strong academic performance in high school,” says Andrew Flagel, dean of admissions. He points out that students who meet the criteria to be considered without standardized test scores are not guaranteed admission.

These students will instead be evaluated on their overall academic records, which must include a more demanding curriculum with advanced-level courses, additional essays and letters of recommendation.

The impact of the new admissions policy means increased diversity, some experts say.

“The consistent experience of colleges that have dropped SAT score requirements is that diversity of all kinds increases,” says Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “This includes more applications from African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, new Asian immigrants, students from low-income families from all ethnic backgrounds and students who attended rural schools.”

“This decision [to make SAT scores optional] goes a step further … understanding that diversity has so many definitions — and one definition of a diverse campus may mean an equal balance between good test-takers and those who aren’t,” says Dave Van de Walle, president & CEO of U Sphere, Inc.

Brad MacGowan, a college and career counselor at Newton North High School in Newton, Mass., applauded GMU’s decision.

“SAT scores are highly correlated with family income. In addition, the SAT is highly coachable, with wealthier families having access to more and better coaching, which exacerbates the inequalities that are already there,” says MacGowan.

However, not everyone is sure the policy will necessarily benefit minority test-takers.

“The rising tide of grades lifts all applicants,” says Steven Goodman, an educational consultant and admissions strategist in Washington, D.C. “I am not sure if it will lead to greater diversity if the same policy effects all applicants.”

Goodman says it could benefit minority applicants with low SAT scores who could be less intimidated to apply to GMU. “But I don’t agree that all minority students have lower test scores,” he says.

Dr. Bari Meltzer Norman, director of the Web site My College, says the university’s move can open the door for students who might otherwise have looked elsewhere.

“As a Miami-based counselor, I see plenty of students for whom English is a second language. [They] have strong academic records but lousy SAT scores,” she says. “They are at a disadvantage when it comes to these standardized tests. Now, I can recommend George Mason as an option to this population, and I will recommend it.”

Gmu will continue to accept standardized test scores from students who believe the tests are an important component of their academic achievements or who do not meet the standards for the score-optional process.

The change in GMU’s admissions policy follows moves by other institutions that have successfully implemented score-optional admission strategies and reflects research that standardized tests provide little additional information to predict success for students with strong academic records.

Similar admissions policies are also going into effect with the class entering in 2007 at Bennington College, Eckerd College, Gustavus Adolphus College and Lebanon Valley College.

“Standardized test scores have less and less weight each year in our traditional admission process,” says Flagel. “All applicants need to clearly demonstrate their talent through their curriculum strength, academic achievements and extra-curricular experiences, regardless of whether they elect to have test scores considered.”

Students seeking admission to the University Honors Program and Scholars Program, as well as those who are planning to major in engineering, must submit tests scores. Home-schooled students also are not covered under the new policy.

— By Shilpa Banerji

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