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

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

Starting this fall, George Mason University 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.  

Calling the SAT “a weak predictor” of college academic performance, GMU officials say students who meet the school’s score-optional criteria 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.”

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,” he says.

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 affects all applicants.”

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 in Vermont, Eckerd College in Florida, Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.

— By Shilpa Banerji

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