As longtime readers of our college admissions blog know well, we believe “test-optional” policies are essentially meaningless. These policies, as we’ve asserted over the years from atop our soapbox in admissions, are designed to ease restrictions on applicants and ultimately to encourage them to apply — even if they don’t necessarily have a legitimate chance of admission. And when so many of our nation’s elite universities went “test-optional” this year due to the pandemic and these schools saw major spikes in applications, well, these institutions saw the fruits of their labor. Yet it would be an oversimplification to suggest that admissions officers at our nation’s elite universities are just over the moon over the application surge as a result of abruptly transitioning to “test-optional” after years of requiring SAT or ACT test scores. Yes, they’re over the moon about the application records. And, yes, increased applications and invariably lower admission rates serve the interest of their respective institutions. But it’s not like they don’t have conflicting feelings about the change.
Dartmouth’s Admissions Leader Raises Moral Question About “Test-Optional” Admissions Policies
As Melissa Korn and Douglas Belkin report for The Wall Street Journal in an excellent piece entitled “College Admission Season Is Crazier Than Ever. That Could Change Who Gets In.,” “The pandemic ‘is calling on us to walk the talk,’ when it comes to thinking more broadly about assessing applicants, said Lee Coffin, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College. Dartmouth saw a 33% rise in applications after it waived standardized test scores this year. Mr. Coffin says he is conflicted about going test-optional. Before the pandemic Dartmouth considered standardized test scores to be among the most important information alongside grade point average, essays and class rank. Seeing strong scores helps his team feel more confident that admitted students could cut it at the Ivy League institution. ‘It becomes a moral question,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to admit someone who is going to struggle.'”
We Believe Admissions Leaders, While Sincere, Will Always Err On the Side of Increasing Applications
We appreciate the words of Lee Coffin and we believe he’s being sincere. It seems he really is struggling with the “test-optional” moral conundrum. On the one hand, he likes the increased interest in Dartmouth. He likes seeing applications surge by 33%. A big part of his job is inspiring students from across America and around the world to apply to the College on the Hill. Yet he also recognizes that a big reason why the school has received so many more applications this year than in years past is due to the school’s new “test-optional” policy. And we do appreciate his sentiment, though we would argue it’s a whole lot harder getting into an elite institution than graduating from an elite institution (see Harvard grade inflation). So while admissions leaders like Mr. Coffin may indeed be conflicted, ultimately, they’re always going to err on the side of making decisions that lead to application increases and lower admission rates.
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