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Students at Rochester

J. Adam Fenster for University of Rochester

Recent months have seen a surge in the number of colleges dropping requirements that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.

Four more have done so in recent weeks. Notably, one of them is highly competitive in admissions. Critics of test optional have suggested that the policy is a gimmick to attract more applicants. But the four recent policy announcements add to the momentum of colleges going test optional and include colleges with no shortage of applicants. The four colleges that recently went test optional are Carthage College, Marquette University, the University of Rochester and the University of Southern Maine.

While none of those colleges are as competitive as the University of Chicago, which dropped its SAT requirement a year ago, their decisions are consistent with the predictions of many admissions expert that Chicago's move would lead more colleges that are competitive in admissions and that have national reputations to follow suit.

The University of Rochester admits only 29 percent of applicants and is a member of the Association of American Universities. Rochester also acted after attracting a record high 21,300 applicants to enroll in the fall, up 6 percent from what had been a record the previous year.

Rochester, since 2011, has been "test flexible," meaning that applicants were not required to submit SAT or ACT scores but did need to submit one standardized test score. The most common submission was an Advanced Placement test, but applicants could also submit International Baccalaureate or other exams.

In announcing the change, Rochester officials said that the test-flexible period made evident that little was added to admissions decisions by having any test scores.

Jonathan Burdick, vice provost for enrollment initiatives and dean of admissions, said in the university's announcement that hundreds of "well-qualified" students have been admitted without SAT or ACT scores in recent years.

“Even well-constructed tests don’t lead to better decisions, and the cost to students having to take and submit those extra exams outweighs any benefit to us. The burden has been greatest on our first-generation and low-income applicants with excellent high school grades and lower scores," Burdick said.

Marquette's decision to go test optional may also be noteworthy. Marquette is a nationally known university, and it is extending to international applicants the option not to submit SAT or ACT scores (although they do need to submit evidence of English proficiency). Marquette is also extending test-optional admissions to homeschooled students. Many colleges that have dropped SAT/ACT requirements have maintained them for those from outside the United States or who are homeschooled. The only group of applicants for whom the SAT or ACT is still required are those seeking to play Division I athletics on a Marquette team, per National Collegiate Athletic Association requirements.

Michael R. Lovell, the university's president, in a statement cited the university's Roman Catholic heritage as part of the thinking behind the change. “Our Catholic, Jesuit mission calls on us to keep a Marquette education accessible to a diverse population of students,” Lovell said. “We will further open our doors by making standardized test scores optional in our undergraduate admissions process.”

Colleges Going Test Optional With Exceptions

Carthage College, in Wisconsin, announced this month that it is going test optional except for those studying nursing, or students whose first language is not English or who were homeschooled.

The college also announced a new policy in which those who wish their SAT or ACT scores to be considered may report their own scores and bypass the testing companies unless they are admitted and decide to enroll.

One public institution, the University of Southern Maine, also announced recently that it is going test optional. Like Carthage, Southern Maine will maintain the requirement for nursing students. The university's announcement said that its research found the SAT or ACT do have predictive value on who will pass nursing licensure tests, even if they do not predict general success at the university.

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