Jul 30, 2015

Colleges requiring SAT Subject Tests: Are they going out of style?

Applicants to Cal Tech must take Math II and a science Subject Test.

According to Cigus Vanni, long time Executive Board Member and former member of New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling NACAC’s Professional Development Committee, the number of colleges and universities requiring SAT Subject Tests for at least some section of their applicant group has shrunk from about 55 twenty years ago to only about two dozen institutions this year.

And he should know.  Since 1996, Vanni has painstakingly assembled an incredibly useful list of schools that require, recommend or utilize Subject Tests in admission or for placement/credit, which he is willing to share free for the asking to anyone who contacts him and makes the request.

A year ago, four colleges completely dropped Subject Tests:  Bryn Mawr College, Wesleyan University, Olin College of Engineering, and Boston College. At the same time, Harvard made a small adjustment in policy by announcing that while admissions “normally” requires two SAT Subject Tests, students “may apply without them if the cost of taking the tests represents a financial hardship or if you prefer to have your application considered without them.”

This shift in policy produced a few additional ripples, as this year more major players changed their rules governing the submission of Subject Tests.

In his annual report, Cigus Vanni points out the following changes for this year:

  • Pomona College:  Subject Tests are no longer required but optional and will be considered if submitted
  • Princeton University:  Subject Tests are no longer required but recommended
  • Yale University:  Subject Tests are no longer required but recommended

Dartmouth University followed Harvard’s lead.  Students for whom taking Subject Tests would prove a financial hardship may elect to be evaluated without them.

Many in admissions find this trend puzzling. 

“I thought that when the ACT gained in popularity and that when various highly selective schools dismissed the need for Subject Tests if a candidate submitted the ACT (perceived as a set of Subject Tests), Subject Tests would be the preferred standardized testing instrument over SAT,” said Vanni.  “I envisioned that in the near future many schools would require Subject Tests or ACT with SAT being optional/recommended.”

It seems, however, that over the past decade Subject Tests have simply gone out of style.  Vanni speculates that it may be because the Advanced Placement (AP) program has “exploded” and the multiple choice section of an AP exam can be compared to a Subject Test. 

It’s also possible that Subject Tests are viewed as a little redundant in view of the “new” SAT, which will now contain what may be considered a set of subject/content tests like the ACT.

“This swing happened fairly quickly considering the long history of college admissions testing,” added Vanni.  “I wonder if Subject Tests will eventually fade altogether.”

Regardless of the future standing of SAT Subject Tests in the admissions hierarchy, here is a sample from Cigus Vanni’s list:

California Institute of Technology:  must take Math Level 2 and either Physics, Chemistry or Biology
Case Western Reserve University:  optional—“you may send them if you feel they strengthen your application”
Columbia University:  ACT may be submitted in lieu of SAT and two Subject tests; if submitting SAT, prospective engineering students must submit Math Level 1 or 2 and a science exam
Cornell University:  required or optional by individual school
Georgetown University:  three “strongly recommended”
Harvey Mudd  College:  must take Math Level 2 and one of student’s choice
Johns Hopkins University:  two “encouraged;” if applying in Engineering, Math Level 2 and one science Subject Test “strongly encouraged”
MIT:  one math and one science required
Middlebury College:  SAT or ACT or three Subject Test “in different areas of study”
Skidmore College:  “welcomes but does not require two Subject Tests”
Stanford University:  recommended but not required; if Math, Level 2 preferred
Swarthmore College:  one of 3 options—SAT and two Subject Tests of student’s choice; or ACT; or SAT and ACT with or without Writing; engineering applicants “encouraged to submit Math Level 2 regardless of whether SAT or Act is presented
Trinity College:  requires “one or more” of the following—ACT, SAT or any two Subject Tests
University of Michigan: if included as part of the application “we will consider them only in light of how they might benefit your review”
University of Virginia:  “strongly recommended”
Washington and Lee University:  “two exams in unrelated” areas recommended—can’t submit Math Level 1 and Math Level 2 for example.
Williams College:  two required

To obtain a copy of the complete 15-page list, email Cigus Vanni at cigusvanni@verizon.net.  In his words, "distribution trumps attribution."

Jul 29, 2015

Mary Washington and GW sign fast-track medical school agreement

University of Mary Washington

The University of Mary Washington and the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences are working together to “streamline” the process by which UMW students may be admitted to medical school.

A memorandum of understanding signed yesterday by both schools provides a pathway for UMW students to apply for and receive acceptance to the GWU School of Medicine and Health Sciences through GW’s Early Selection program.

"The agreement will let highly qualified students gain acceptance to medical school during the summer following their sophomore year,” said Richard Finkelstein, dean of the UMW College of Arts and Sciences.  “During their final two years at UMW, students will have the freedom and encouragement to study a wider range of subjects in the liberal arts than they might do otherwise.”
UMW Honors students interested in pursuing this opportunity will work closely with academic advisors to meet the minimum requirements for applications—both curricular and extracurricular. 

Admitted students will not be required to take MCATs and will be encouraged to spend additional time pursuing research, study abroad and rigorous liberal arts course work matching their interests and ambitions.

According to Dean Finkelstein, there is no “limit” to the number of UMW honors students who will be admitted to the program after their sophomore year.  Between 50 and 80 students are admitted to the UMW honors program each year.  Those honors students who meet the criteria under the agreement and who are interested in applying to the GW program will do so directly through the GW medical school admissions office.  Dean Finkelstein estimates that the program could include several UMW students each year.

In addition to the University of Mary Washington, GW offers the Early Selection program to a number of other undergraduate colleges and universities, including Claremont McKenna, Colgate, George Mason University, Randolph Macon College, Rhodes College, and the University of Maryland College Park.

For more information on GW’s Early Selection program and the memorandum of understanding with the University of Mary Washington, contact Dean Finkelstein at rfinkels@umw.edu or visit the GWU School of Medicine and Health Sciences Early Selection website.

Jul 27, 2015

GW goes test-optional

GW goes test-optional
George Washington University announced today that it will no longer require most applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of the admissions process for freshman or transfer students.

 “SAT/ACT scores will be considered an ‘optional’ credential, and students may decide whether they will submit their scores to GW to be included in their application.  The Admissions Committee will consider scores in a manner that is consistent with other documents that are often submitted by candidates but which are not required for an application to be considered complete, such as resumes, supplemental letter of recommendation from individuals other than a teacher/counselor and interviews.”

According to GW’s website, applicants will be able to communicate whether they intend to submit scores for consideration via the Member Screen of the Common Application, which goes live on August 1.  It will be up to the student to then arrange to have an official score report sent directly to GW.

GW will continue to superscore SAT’s for applicants electing to submit, but will not superscore the ACT.  Instead admissions will consider the highest submitted composite score.  GW will not recalculate a new composite score from subsection scores on different test dates.

The test-optional policy will not apply to

  • Applicants to the Accelerated seven-year BA/MD program
  • Homeschool students
  • Applicants applying form secondary schools that provide only narrative evaluations rather than some form of grading scale
  • Recruited NCAA Division 1 athletes

Students who previously sent their scores to GW but who now wish to have them removed from their application should email the Office of Admissions at gwadm@gwu.edu.   It is important to include the name used when registering for the test (if different) and date of birth in the email request.

GW made the decision to go test-optional in response to recommendations from the Access committee of the university’s Task Force on Access and Success.  Members of the task force reached the conclusion that the “best predictor of academic success in college is a student’s high school record, especially their high school GPA.”

“Although we have long employed a holistic application review process, we had concerns that students who could be successful at GW felt discouraged from applying if their scores were not as strong as their high school performance,” said Dean of Admissions Karen Stroud Felton in a statement to the Washington POST. “We want outstanding students from all over the world and from all different backgrounds – regardless of their standardized scores – to recognize GW as a place where they can thrive.”

 And GW is not alone in coming to this decision.  According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), 40 colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies since spring 2013.  Like GW, many of the institutions going test-optional in the past two years are among the nation’s most competitive.  The list includes Beloit, Brandeis, Bryn Mawr, Drake, Hood, Kalamazoo, Sienna and Wesleyan.

In addition, a growing number of public universities such as Eastern Connecticut, Monmouth State, Old Dominion, Plymouth State, Rowan, Temple, and Virginia Commonwealth University have eliminated ACT or SAT score requirements for many or all applicants.

FairTest’s list of test-optional colleges and universities now includes more than 180 institutions ranked among the “top-tiers of their respective categories.”  More than one-third of top-ranked liberal arts colleges have test-optional policies.

A complete list of test optional schools may be found on the FairTest website.

What to do about college applications this summer

The University of Chicago is already accepting applications for fall 2016.

Colleges are increasingly ignoring the “official” start of the application season as signaled by the annual rebooting of the Common Application on August 1. They are posting applications earlier in the summer and inviting students to begin completing applications long before Labor Day.

While few applicants and their families, or colleges for that matter, expect school counselors to abruptly terminate vacations and run back to school early for the purpose of sending recommendations or transcripts, the pressure to get an early start is definitely being felt throughout the admissions system.  And not everyone is too happy about the trend.

On the positive side, many independent educational consultants (IECs) welcome the opportunity to help students start working on applications during the summer, particularly those in areas of the country where school opens the first or second week of August.  They want everyone to know that part of their “value added” is the ability to counsel applicants on how the process works and the need for a more measured approach to the pressure to submit early.

This includes reminding families that school counselors have other priorities at the start of the school year and aren’t likely to turn attention to applications and transcripts in the first few weeks of the term.  

For their part, colleges understand that a number of factors guide when supporting documents can be sent, not the least of which is opening day, which for many is after Labor Day.  And the last thing anyone wants is to heighten competition by making one element of the process a function of the date by which all paperwork is completed.

It’s no secret there are regional differences as to when school starts and cultural differences (public vs. private) as to how quickly school counselors can respond to these kinds of requests at the start of the school year.  Few (but some) colleges start reading before mid-September and none should be making decisions in violation of NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice, which advise colleges not to “establish any application deadlines for first-year candidates for fall admission prior to October 15” and to “give equal consideration to all applications received by that date.”

Keeping in mind that not everyone thinks application “creep” is a good thing, here is great advice provided by school counselors, independent counselors, and former admissions staff on the question of how to handle applications during the summer months:

“My students would prefer to get the application load done prior to starting classes.  They understand that teacher and counselor recommendations as well as sending transcripts will not be available for the first weeks of school (California) but this does not stop them from working ahead.  I also have them draft college essays in the summer, and then re-visit the drafts in September with a fresh perspective.”  Joan Thomas, College Mapping

“I also have a big focus on getting as much paperwork (applications filled out, essay drafts in 99% final form, scholarship searches, etc.) done as possible during the spring and summer before senior year begins in the fall so that my students have less stress, meet their deadlines, manage their homework and activities, and hopefully have more time to enjoy their last year of high school--there's enough stress already!”   Marilyn van Loben Sels, College GPS

“I find summer application availability quite helpful for my kids who are athletes or have other unusually large time commitments above and beyond in the fall. What does frustrate me however are the Oct 15th deadlines that seem to be on the rise. That works for kids starting school in mid or early August but for those of us heading back to school after Labor Day, an application deadline six weeks into the school year is a bit much.” Amy S. Jasper, My College Fit

For what it's worth, here in NY, schools typically open after Labor Day and many guidance counselors will not accept applications until the end of September.  Many of my clients go away for the summer and I want to encourage those meaningful, non-academic experiences.  I find it unfair and potentially stressful to allow applicants to start earlier when most students in our area do not have that option.”  Jill P. Madenberg, Independent Educational Consultant

“I can imagine a scenario where the high school counselors, who are doing schedule adjustments and orientations at the beginning of the school year, are bombarded with anxious seniors who want their transcripts sent yesterday.  Generally, it takes some time at the beginning of a school year to get the school profiles and transcripts finalized, not to mention letters of recommendation.  Consultants who are advising students to send their applications during the summer could help by 1) explaining to the student that the transcripts and high school reports may not go out right at the beginning of the school year and to be patient and 2) contact the high school counselors in their area to find out what their policies are. Patricia Bostwick, My College Matchmaker

“[I]t would seem to me that school counselors, as well as consultants could benefit from a longer not shorter application season in that students and everyone else involved in the college admissions process might feel less pressured to meet deadlines that are bunched together at the same time.” Melanie Rome, Independent Educational Consultant

“There are so many reasons why I think summer applications are a bad idea…Let them be kids, let them go to camp, let them get a summer job, let them recharge their batteries for goodness sakes!! These students need a break from academics, applications, test prep, and everything else that goes along with being a high school student. Why can't we just let them be kids, have fun and enjoy their summers, stress-free from college applications?!”   Felice R. Kobrick, Kobrick College Consulting
“We need to help our students and their families stay calm and reassure them that all will be well, as long as they keep clear lines of communication open with their high school counselor and their IEC. We all know that managing expectations is a part of our work, whether it be related to college admission or helping students be real about how quickly people can and will respond to their requests. When I was a high school counselor, we would go into junior year US History classes to talk with the kids about the college process. I used to say, ‘Please tell your parents that I don't work any smarter, harder, or faster when anyone is yelling at me, either in person or via email about the urgency of getting application pieces submitted.’" Claire Nold-Glaser, College Planning Help

“It's like doing your Christmas/Chanukah shopping in July. You'll buy those presents early, but you still can't gift them until the holidays! Keep in mind, most colleges will not so much as look at an application until it is ‘complete,’ meaning that they not only have your application, but also your transcripts, Guidance Report, letters of recommendation, score reports, etc. Most of these will not be ready to go, let alone sent to colleges, until the end of September, at the earliest…Don't rush those applications! Remember, the early bird may catch the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!”  Seth Bykofsky, The College Whisperer

“Summer has always been my busiest time. I emphasize that the goal is to have all of the college visits, essays (main, additional info and supplements) as well as the Common App completed before the student goes back to school in late August or early September. I want the student to concentrate on getting their best grades in the first semester of senior year!” Judy Zodda, Zodda College Services

“[F]or all of my students, I like that they can have early access to real applications at this point in the game. I think it can connect our newest seniors to the reality of just how crunched time is about to become. I don't recommend to them that they rush through the process of filling anything out yet, just that they connect with the application process in a measured, thoughtful way…As long as colleges are not viewing these summer application submissions as some kind of preferential treatment for admission consideration, I'm fine with them getting their process going at this time.”  Amy Goldin, COPA Inc.

“I suggest to my seniors that they begin working on the common app (or other applications) beginning in August, with the goal of completing basic demographic info, activities, and honors prior to the start of school. This works in NC, where the first day of school is usually August 25. I also advise them to set aside applications for at least the first week of school while they readjust to complicated schedules comprising classes, sports, and other extracurriculars. I think it is a psychological boost to accomplish some work on applications.” Julie Cunningham, Cunningham College Consulting

“Logistically, transcripts with finalized courses seniors are actually taking are not available until the end of September. We tell seniors to give us 30 days to process requests which includes transcripts and recommendations. It also takes time for us to finalize the school profile and get it printed and uploaded to Naviance. We are a bit at the mercy of our enrollment data, the time it takes to update the information for the profile, time necessary to design/redesign the profile, and the time it takes for the outside printer to do the job…Yes, even public school folk believe in being proactive and getting work you can do early before school starts. I don’t see any advantage to sending out applications to schools in August/September.”  Diana Blitz, Counselor, Woodrow Wilson High School, Washington, D.C.

“I always encourage my students to apply when the application opens if the student is ready. I want my seniors to enjoy their last year of high school. Whatever they can accomplish during the summer actually relieves the stress often associated with the application process. I also wish more colleges would start releasing their supplemental essay prompts earlier so that students could get started on those as well. I often find that a supplemental essay may be a good starting point for some students as they can become overwhelmed by the Common Application essay but know exactly why they are applying to a college or can easily address a direct question…I think the quality of the essay is much better when the student has time to give it some thought and not worry about the physics test, the homecoming dance and the pile of applications.”  Jeana Kawamura, Kawamura College Advisement

“I think giving kids the opportunity to start work on their applications over the summer is a great idea, and I encourage my students to do so as often as possible.  For kids at the upper end of the academic spectrum, their workload is intense, and trying to juggle college applications and essays adds to their stress.  The kids at the lower end of the spectrum need to show top grades in the first semester to indicate an upward trend to colleges.  So getting work done in the summer relieves stress on all kids.  I encourage my students to complete their Common App essay by July, so that they can use August to complete the Common App itself and to begin work on college-specific essays.  I find that when they have a little more time on their hands and feel more relaxed, they write more reflective essays.  AND they are thrilled to go back to school and find themselves in a great position compared to many of their peers who haven't yet thought much about the process.”  Eleanor Long  LongRoad2College

And what do you think?

Check here for a list of colleges that are ready and willing to accept applications for fall 2016.