Why Competitive Engineering College Is Latest to Drop SAT Subject Tests

Webb finds its own assessments better predict success in the first year.

March 26, 2018
Image of front gate at Webb Institute

Just two weeks ago, Tufts University announced that it would no longer require applicants to submit SAT subject tests. Although the tests were once common requirements at competitive colleges and universities, the Tufts decision brought down to nine the number of colleges requiring them (although some recommend them).

The holdouts have tended to be math and science oriented, places like the California Institute of Technology, Harvey Mudd College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Webb Institute -- all institutions where perfect or near-perfect scores on the math SAT are common. These institutions generally require one of the two mathematics subject tests and one science exam.

But now Webb Institute, in Glen Cover, N.Y., has dropped the requirement. Webb is an unusual institution with a small student body, where everyone has a double major in naval architecture and marine engineering. Full scholarships for students, combined with highly respected academics, make admissions very competitive.

Lauren M. Carballo, director of admissions at Webb, said that officials there “realized over the past several years that the SAT subject tests did not necessarily correlate with students success at Webb,” especially in students' first year.

So Webb created its own assessments in English and mathematics, which applicants must take on their required visit to campus as finalists for admission.

“We quickly realized” that those assessments, combined with the required interview, Carballo said,  “were better predictors” of success than were the subject tests.

Webb decided to make the subject tests optional and also invited applicants to submit other scores that may be relevant, such as those on Advanced Placement tests.

Carballo also said that she worried about the expense associated with the subject tests, for at least some applicants. (That is a concern cited by other college admissions leaders moving away from requiring the subject tests.)

Since the size of a Webb class of new students is small (28), she said it made sense to focus on individual reviews of applications, rather than requiring the additional testing.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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