Investigative Reporting | March 2012
Yasmin Gentry is a senior at Naperville Central who applied to DePaul under the early action application deadline. When presented with the decision of whether or not to submit her ACT score in the application, Gentry grappled with the idea of instead writing an additional essay. In the end she submitted her score feeling they would help her chances for merit scholarships.
“I know people who aren’t very good standardized test takers, and their abilities totally outweigh the number they receive on their score report,” Gentry said. “Still, I think test scores are a pretty important factor that students should include in their application if they can.”
Gentry is not alone in her belief. After announcing their move to test optional last fall, DePaul received a total of 17,756 applications as of March 6, 90 percent of which included ACT and/or SAT test scores. Whether students are doing remarkably well on standardized tests this year, or submitting scores is just habitual nowadays, the test score fields on the majority of DePaul admissions applications are filled in. Still, supporters of test optional feel this initiative gives opportunity to a much wider range of potential students.
DePaul is in good company, as many schools have chosen to go test optional in the last couple years. The College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts went test optional in 2005, arguing that this would lower the importance of test scores and place more emphasis on the academic history of an applicant via transcripts and recommendation letters. As a result the school received a 41 percent increase in applications in their first year of going test optional.
Wake Forest University located in Raleigh, North Carolina also experienced a significant boost in applicants. In the past two years Wake Forest experience a 50 percent increase in applicants, and a 46 percent increase in applicants checking any box other than “white” in the ethnicity field. International applicants also increased by 36 percent.
“By making the SAT and ACT optional, we hope to broaden the applicant pool and increase access at Wake Forest for groups of students who are currently underrepresented at selective universities,” said Martha Allman, Director of Admissions at Wake Forest.
High School college counselors are also jumping on board. “The reality is that for some students testing is not going to yield valuable information about their strengths and skills,” said Sara R. Diaz, Counselor at Walter Payton College Prep.
The question then becomes: how do you asses the student? DePaul has asked students who choose test optional to write additional essays on their application. While this provides admissions with more information, critics wonder if it is the right additional information.
“I don’t believe an extra essay is the same equivalent as standardized test results because they measure two completely different skills,” said Diaz. “If an admissions department says ‘write an essay in lieu of testing’ then they need to think about what insight they will gain into the applicant. Otherwise it seems like you are just making the student jump through a hoop.”
Sara Fur, the Director of S.T.A.R.S. from the Office of Multicultural Office at DePaul, specializes in mentorship of first year students typically from low income households.
“The least indicative factor was ACT score and the most was high school GPA and advanced courses and experiences that promote resilience,” said Fur.
As someone who works with primarily minority, first generation, or low income students, Fur pointed out research showing ACT scores are a better predicator of affluence than success. “A lot of students, who are struggling academically, are also struggling financially,” said Fur.
Kaplan ACT and SAT test prep classes, study guides, and private tutoring range $300 to $4,799 depending on your package, and often simply too expensive for students.
By not requiring test scores, DePaul has opened the door for these groups of applicants to apply based on their other, perhaps more impressive, merits. David White, DePaul Professor in the Philosophy Department, hopes that this decision will allow talented students who haven’t been given the resources to excel on the ACT a chance, but does not think this initiative will achieve that.
“I have my doubts that much will get accomplished as failing to indicate one’s ACT score means most likely it was sub-par,” said White. “Admissions officers know this and will no doubt have it in their heads. No doubt there will be a few students admitted under this, if not purely to prove that the implementation is working. But largely, I don’t think much will change other than a slightly larger applicant pool.”
Perhaps White’s notions aren’t far from true, as DePaul Admissions statistics come in they show not only a strikingly less amount of test optional applications compared to regular applications, but a significantly low number of acceptance letters going out to those who went test optional. Of the 17,756 applications, 10 percent were test optional. Of that pool, a mere 10 percent were actually accepted to DePaul.
As acceptance letters begin to hit mailboxes the end of this month, the DePaul community will see its first class under the test optional initiative, and the question on many people’s minds may be less of “how much did it change?” and more “did it change at all?”