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What should colleges and universities do with a student’s SAT and ACT scores? Hampshire College has come up with a bold answer: ignore them. These tests introduce a lot of statistical noise, because it is impossible to know if the student had a typical test-taking performance, took a prep course that boosted their results beyond what they would “naturally” get, and, most critically, what a high score means about the student’s future success (hundreds of other schools are “test optional” suggesting they are sympathetic to these ideas). So what is Hampshire College doing instead? School President Jonathan Lash explains in an article:
“In our admissions, we review an applicant’s whole academic and lived experience. We consider an applicant’s ability to present themselves in essays and interviews, review their recommendations from mentors, and assess factors such as their community engagement and entrepreneurism. And yes, we look closely at high school academic records, though in an unconventional manner. We look for an overarching narrative that shows motivation, discipline, and the capacity for self-reflection. We look at grade point average (GPA) as a measure of performance over a range of courses and time, distinct from a one-test-on-one-day SAT/ACT score. A student’s consistent "A" grades may be coupled with evidence of curiosity and learning across disciplines, as well as leadership in civic or social causes. Another student may have overcome obstacles through determination, demonstrating promise of success in a demanding program. Strong high school graduates demonstrate purpose, a passion for authenticity, and commitment to positive change.”
Since implementing this change, Hampshire has found that their student body is more diverse and has more students who are the first in their families to attend college, among other benefits described by Lash.
All of this is more work than simply glancing at a number and a resume, but admissions is not a place to take shortcuts. Admissions is the process of defining one’s student body, and it is one of the most critical elements of any school. None of this is to say that standardized tests are meaningless, or that the colleges that use them are doing admissions wrong in some way. However, like Hampshire College, we have found that a different approach produces the results we are looking for.
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