BRYN MAWR — Bryn Mawr College, a small private women’s school near Philadelphia, last week joined a growing number of schools around the country that no longer require the SAT or other standardized test scores for admission.
The college instead will rely on high school grades, essays, and other factors — a move officials hope will attract a broader applicant pool.
“We know there are students all around the country who, when they see ‘test scores,’ they see it as a barrier to applying,” said Peaches Valdes, Bryn Mawr’s director of admissions.
The new policy will take effect for the admissions cycle that begins this fall.
“The Philadelphia area has become a hotbed of test-optional schools,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of Fair Test: National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a major critic of the SAT and other standardized tests.
St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia went test-optional last fall. Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Ursinus College in Collegeville, Gettysburg College, and Albright College in Reading also are among test-optional schools in the region.
Muhlenberg College in Allentown and the College of New Jersey in Ewing require scores for some programs, according to Fair Test.
Nationally, more than 800 colleges — about 30 percent of schools that grant bachelor’s degrees — give students the option of submitting SAT and ACT scores, Schaeffer said. Among them are several other women’s colleges, including Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wesleyan (Ga.).
For years, critics have called the SAT an unreliable predictor of college readiness that discriminates against minority students and those from low-income families. The College Board, which created the SAT, disputes that assertion.
The College Board recently announced sweeping changes in the test, including making the essay optional, using questions to better gauge what students learn in high school, and removing penalties for wrong answers.
“In nearly all validity studies, high school GPA and SAT scores in combination are shown to be the best predictors of college success,” said Kate Levin, a spokeswoman for the College Board.
Many of the nation’s highly competitive colleges continue to require SATs as a component for admission, regarding the test as the one standardized measure by which to evaluate every student.
“In the context of other academic information, we do find them useful,” said Jess Lord, dean of admission at Haverford College, also on the Main Line.
Earlier this year, a study released by the National Association of College Admission Counseling found almost no difference in college GPAs and graduation rates between students who submitted SAT scores and those who did not at colleges where scores are optional. The study, including 123,000 students at 33 test-optional colleges, showed that on average, students who submitted scores achieved a GPA of 2.88, compared with 2.83 for those who did not. In graduation rates, the difference was six-tenths of 1 percent.
Forgoing SATs and ACTs, advocates say, opens college access to a wider population. Applicants who do not submit scores are more likely to be minorities, women, the first in their family to attend college, students with learning disabilities, and from low-income families, the study said.
At Bryn Mawr, admissions staff, faculty, and institutional researchers began to consider the switch two years ago.
“It was clear that the standardized tests added very little predictive information, after accounting for the strength of applicants’ academic work in high school and the admissions staff’s review of the whole application,” said Marc Schulz, a psychology professor on the faculty admissions committee.
Bryn Mawr previously adhered to a “test-flexible” policy, allowing students to submit Advanced Placement test scores or SAT subject test scores or a combination, rather than the traditional SAT math and reading scores.
The college will continue to require applicants who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents to submit SATs or ACTs.
Bryn Mawr, where students will pay $59,890 in tuition, fees and room and board next year, expects its applications — and as a result its selectivity — to rise as a result of the change. The school received 2,706 applications this year, virtually the same as the year before. The school accepted 40 percent of applicants.
At St. Joseph’s, applications last year increased by 8 percent to 8,500, and the university culled its most diverse class ever, said John Haller, associate provost for enrollment management. About 18 percent of applicants chose not to submit scores, he said. Of the incoming freshman class of 1,350, one in five was admitted without having submitted test scores.
“We admitted students who we thought would be successful,” Haller said, noting that the average GPA for the class is identical to last year’s class. “A joint committee … will meet on a regular basis to see how the students are performing and how they are transitioning.”