Earlier this week George Washington University became the latest highly selective school to announce that it will no longer require standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) for admission.

Test-optional admissions policies are nothing new – we’ve been talking/writing about the growing trend among competitive schools to have some type of test waiver for years.  That said, we’re seeing perhaps the largest migration of highly selective schools to adopt test flexible practices than ever before – more than 125 private colleges listed in the US News & World Report rankings have test optional admissions.

Since science has suggested for years that there was little correlation between performance on standardized admissions tests and performance in the college classroom, what I’d like to explore in this article is GW’s timing.  Why now?   Here’s my take.

And yes, it’s business as usual.

GW’s admit rate (a critical metric on the US News & World Rankings) for Fall 2015 was 46%, according to the Washington Post.  Meanwhile, American University, GW’s  cross-town neighbor and rival boasted an unprecedented and ginormous drop in its admit rate for 2015, from 46% to 35%.  Uh oh. It looks like American (which went test optional a couple of years ago) is 11 percentage points more selective (read: better) than GW.

I can only imagine the machinations amongst GW’s Board of Trustees. The only thing that surprised me about this announcement is how long it took GW to make it.

Full disclosure: I have a small horse in this race.  We have a house divided – I attended GW for my MA/MBA, while Jill attended American for her MBA.  

Oh, GW’s Dean of Admissions Karen Stroud Felton said all the expected things, “We had concerns that students who could be successful at GW felt discouraged from applying (my italics) if their scores were not as strong as their high school performance.”  I’m sure that’s true, but don’t kid yourself, what she meant was – we need to grow our applicant pool. GW made this decision so that it could attract more students to submit applications to GW, which would, in turn, lower GW’s admission rate so that it would be deemed more competitive which would increase its ranking in the US News & World Report. Period. (GW is currently ranked 54 among national universities).

GW also stated an intent to “broaden access for those high achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students and students from low income households,” this according to Laurie Koehler, senior associate provost for enrollment management. Also probably true, but if GW, and all colleges, really want to broaden their access to those “underrepresented” students, then they should focus more attention on allocating larger portions of their endowments to meeting the financial needs of lower and middle class families.  Granted, GW has a decent track record in this regard, but they could do a better job in meeting a greater portion of demonstrated need with fewer or no loans!

My snarkiness aside, I wholeheartedly support GW’s decision to go test-optional.  They should attract more applicants, which is both good for the school and good for students who otherwise had little hope for admission.  And let’s remember that this is all happening at a time when the SAT is undergoing massive changes, to be rolled out in March 2016 (with or without a grading scale).  More on that coming soon.

Frankly, I hope and believe that more and more competitive colleges and universities will enter the test-optional ranks, joining schools like Wake Forest, Bowdoin, Smith, Colby, Brandeis, Union (NY), Marist, the aforementioned American University, and many others.

GW is now the largest private university (10,000 undergrads) to waive the standardized test requirement. Still, standardized testing isn’t going away any time soon.  Most colleges and universities still require them for admission.  So, with testing policies, like many of the other increasingly nuanced aspects of college admissions (and financial aid) process, there are many confusing and disparate rules and requirements for parents and students to comprehend.  Landmines and loopholes.  If you know the rules in advance, you’ll be able to bend them to your advantage.  If you don’t you could needlessly limit your options, overpay or wind up taking on more debt than you should.  Quite simply, the process isn’t fair, so don’t expect fairness.  Rather, you need to find the right opportunities to give your student the best advantage.

For starters, you can get educated on both the admissions and financial aid processes by attending one of our upcoming events.  Local South Florida families can attend in person onAugust 17 at Total Wine & More in Pembroke Pines, while others can join us  for our live teleclass on August 11.  At the live event we’ll be holding a wine tasting beforehand at 6 pm – featuring California wines (you certainly may uncork your own bottle during the webinar).

I’ve been teaching the live class for over 8 years, and parents love it.  And unlike college, our classes are free and exceedingly stress-free. You can register for the webinar here. 

Best,

Peter

P.S. In other news, 69 new schools have been added to the Common App which goes live tomorrow (August 1)!  Some notable additions include St. John’s University, Tulane and Nova Southeastern University (relevant to South Florida). There are 3 new (or revamped) essay prompts, so get cracking.  Also, the FSU app with its brand new essay prompt goes live on Saturday as well. Yes – it is officially Application Season!!!

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