Emily English was a bright and talented high school student with a dilemma: Her scores on the SAT exam were not exactly what she hoped for, and she worried that would keep her from getting into a competitive, nationally prestigious university.
That was when Wake Forest University caught her eye.
The Winston-Salem, N.C., university had just announced that for the first time, it would not require prospective students to submit their SAT or ACT exam scores in the admissions process. Hundreds of schools have adopted similar policies, but few of them have the reputation of Wake Forest.
Three years later, English is a junior planning on attending graduate school to become a clinical mental health counselor, and Wake Forest officials have no second thoughts about their decision.
“I knew that when I got my scores back … it was not going to be indicative of my future college success,” English said. “That one score I received from taking a four-hour test by no means captured the effort I had put forth through high school.”
Since she became part of the first test-optional class at the university, the percentage of students at Wake Forest who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes has gone from 65 percent of first-year students in 2008 to 83 percent in the current year, according to Dean of Admissions Martha Allman.
The student body also has become more diverse, with non-white students going from about 16 percent of the population to roughly 22 percent, she said. And tracking of student performance shows virtually no difference between those who chose to submit their scores and those who chose not to—no significant divergence in grades, dropout rates, or other measures of performance.
“I think admissions officers have been talking about this for years,” Allman said. “We also had sort of a discomfort with dividing students by test scores, because we knew all along the high school record was much more important.”
The case for such policies is put forward in a new book of essays called SAT Wars: The Case for Test-Optional College Admissions, which takes a critical look at the SAT while calling for a rethinking of the college admissions process.