Tag Archives: AP tests

Who Benefits from Test-optional and Test-flexible Admissions Policies?

As the role of college entrance exams continues to shift, many students find it difficult to navigate evolving and variable testing requirements. The process is made even more complex by the growing number of “test-optional” schools that do not require students to submit the SAT or ACT.

Over 1000 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake ForestSmith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYUMiddlebury and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.

Many students question how to handle test-optional policies, and are unsure of whether or not they should submit their scores. In this blog, we will take a closer look at student choices in applying to test optional colleges and why more and more schools are offering test-optional admissions policies.

Which colleges offer test-optional policies? Are all policies the same?

FairTest.org offers a comprehensive list of the colleges that currently offer test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies. While colleges offering these policies include a variety of institutions, it is notable that many are small liberal arts colleges, public universities, and small Catholic colleges. With few exceptions, the most highly selective colleges continue to require standardized testing; besides being a standard indicator of college readiness, test scores can create a benchmark of acceptance for schools that are becoming inundated with ever-increasing applicant pools.

It is interesting to note that of the 50 highest-ranked national universities, only four have test-optional or test-flexible policies, including Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU, whereas 21 of the top-ranked liberal arts universities offer such testing options. One possible reason is that to attract applicants, the national universities rely more on US News & World Report’s rankings, which factor in test scores. In addition, small liberal arts universities are typically more holistic in their evaluations of candidates.

Test-optional and test-flexible policies vary widely, and the best way to make sure that you are submitting the correct testing requirements is to research the details on the specific college’s website.

For example, NYU (test-flexible) requires testing but students have a variety of options:

  • ACT (writing test not required)
  • SAT(essay test not required)
  • 3 SAT Subject Test scores
  • 3 AP exam scores
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma
  • 3 IB higher-level exam scores if not an IB Diploma candidate
  • Nationally accredited exam that shows you completed your secondary education

Many test-optional schools require students who are not submitting test scores to meet additional requirements, including interviews, writing samples, teacher recommendations, or completing a Test-Optional Form. For example, Franklin & Marshall College requires students who choose to opt out of testing to submit two graded writing samples (creative or analytical), preferably from a humanities or social science course. Loyola University Maryland asks applicants who take advantage of their test-optional policy to submit an additional teacher recommendation and/or personal essay. At Virginia Commonwealth University, high school applicants must have at least a 3.3 GPA to bypass testing requirements.

Interestingly, many test-optional schools, including Marist College, require students to submit standardized test scores once they have been accepted and enroll. The schools use these test scores for the purposes of academic advisement and course placement.

Why do schools offer test-optional policies?

Increasing ethnic diversity

Many schools, including Wake Forest, claim that test-optional policies have led to a more diverse student body with no notable difference in academic achievement between students who opted out of testing and those who submitted scores. Wake Forest also states that ethnic diversity increased by 90% since the Fall of 2008 when their test-optional policy went into effect. A 2014 report from two former Bates College admissions officials, William Hiss and Valerie Franks, also found an increase in racial and socio-economic diversity at test-optional schools.

Focusing on holistic admissions

In determining whether an applicant is a good fit, test-optional schools stress the importance of examining the student’s complete academic profile. The College of the Holy Cross states, “We are test optional because we have found that a student’s academic history in high school is a better indicator of their scholastic ability than an exam taken on a singular Saturday morning.”

Fairness

Many institutions are disillusioned with current standardized testing, and feel that the test preparation available to the wealthy creates an unfair advantage. For example, Marist College states, “Many studies indicate performance on standardized tests is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible bias against certain minority students. Our experience shows that the rigor of a student’s program and overall academic performance can best illustrate commitment, motivation, work ethic, and a willingness to take on challenges.”

Improved US News Rankings

Intentional or not, the schools offering test-optional policies also tend to see improved U.S. News rankings. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia examined data from 32 selective liberal arts colleges, and found that, after going test-optional, these schools received an average increase of 220 applications and their mean SAT scores rose by an average of 26 points.

Selectivity and test scores are important factors in the U.S. News rankings. US News is transparent about the components that comprise its ranking methodology. 7.75% of rankings derive from the SAT critical reading and math portions; and the composite ACT score.

Test-optional policies tend to increase applicant numbers, creating higher selectivity for the schools, and since students who did better on standardized tests report their scores, while students with low scores often do not, the school can report artificially inflated test scores of accepted applicants.

Notably, the only “test-blind” school, Hampshire College, is unranked by US News. Hampshire College does not consider any ACT or SAT scores as part of its admissions policy, and therefore has no scores to report. Sarah Lawrence was once “test-blind” as well, from 2003 to 2012. In 2012, Sarah Lawrence switched to a “test-optional” policy, presumably to rejoin the ranks of US News, among other reasons.

Bottom-line: Should I send my scores?

At the end of the day, you might be deliberating over whether or not to send your scores. Here are some considerations to assist in your decision:

Research the range of standardized test scores for accepted students

According to U.S. News, “If you do some research and find that your results fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median at more inclusive institutions, you may want to hold them back.”

Decide if your test scores accurately represent your potential as a student

At the College of the Holy Cross, Director of Admissions Ann McDermott writes, “If you feel your testing says something about you and your abilities, feel free to send them along. We will look at them in conjunction with your transcript, your recommendations, essay, and interview (if you have had one) and make our assessment.  If, on the other hand, you feel that your test scores do not represent you well, then do not hesitate to withhold them. We will not make any assumptions about your testing, and will focus our attention on your transcript and the other accompanying credentials that are contained in your application.”

Take a hard look at your academic performance and activity list

Jane H. Dane, associate vice president for enrollment management at Old Dominion University in Virginia, notes that applicants who withhold scores are “particularly scrutinized for other evidence of potential for success, like challenging course work and leadership skills. The more well-rounded you are, the better your chances of impressing without scores.”

Remember that regardless of testing policies, all schools look at more than your scores

Try to remember that test scores are just one part of your college application, and not even the most significant one. As the College Board reminds us, “College admission officers give the most weight and importance to your high school grades and whether you’re challenging yourself.”

Determining the best testing options for each student requires consideration of a variety of factors and personal preferences. For more information on standardized testing, or any other aspect of the college admissions process, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. We’re always happy to help!

The ABCs of Secondary School Curricula: Advanced Placement (AP)

 Why are so many students participating in Advanced Placement (AP) programs in the U.S.? In addition to enabling students to explore subject matter in greater depth, these courses and exams have become a gateway into prestigious and highly selective schools.

Due to the important role that this program now plays in the college admissions process, it is no wonder that there has been a tremendous surge in its popularity. In fact, during this week and next, almost 3 million high school students will be taking AP exams.

According to a recent study, from 1992 to 2012, the number of schools in the United States which offered AP courses nearly doubled, and the number of AP exams administered increased more than 500%. The AP program has international popularity as well; universities in over 60 countries outside the United States recognize AP in the admission process.

In this blog, we’ll provide an overview of the AP program, help navigate its complexities, and explore its potential benefits. AP courses are accepted at virtually all U.S. colleges and universities, but how the colleges use AP scores and credits varies. Some schools use AP scores to allow for advanced placement (skipping over entry-level courses), college credit, the satisfaction of distribution requirements, and/or early graduation.

AP Exam Scoring

To make sure that you understand how the AP exam scoring relates to college-readiness and college grades, here is a quick synopsis of how the exams are graded. The Advanced Placement Program offers more than 30 courses and exams. Each AP course concludes with a college-level assessment developed and scored by college and university faculty, as well as experienced AP teachers.

Research consistently shows that students who receive a score of 3 or higher on AP exams typically experience greater academic success in college and have higher graduation rates than their non-AP peers. Selective colleges treat strong scores on the APs as additional evidence of your ability to master course content. In order to be considered for credit or placement, you must send your official AP score report to the college you’re planning to attend.

Scores on the free-response questions are weighted and combined with the results of the multiple-choice questions, and this raw score is converted into a composite AP score of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 6.17.04 PM

For example, earning a 5 is the equivalent of receiving an A in the college course. Similarly, AP Exam scores of 4 are equivalent to college grades of A−, B+, and B. AP Exam scores of 3 are equivalent to college grades of B−, C+, and C (See AP’s college database for specific policies at each university).

Benefits of Taking AP Courses/Exams

AP courses are more challenging than standard high school level courses. However, there are many benefits to taking AP courses, which can make them worth the extra work required to succeed.

AP helps you develop college-level skills, thereby easing the transition from high school to college

AP classes require college-level critical thinking skills. As a result, taking these classes can help high school students improve in areas like high-level computation, essay writing, and problem-solving, thereby easing the transition into college.

Adjusting to life in college is often challenging, as students have to make sense of many changes happening at once. For many college freshmen, this is the first time they are living away from home. They must learn to be self-sufficient while also navigating a new social and academic world. Taking AP courses in high school can help ease the academic transition, giving students one less thing to worry about.

AP courses are valued by college admission counselors

Admission officers specifically look for students who have taken the most challenging courses available to them. Success in high-level courses, like APs or the International Baccalaureate program, is a strong indicator of preparedness for college. Often, high schools reflect the rigor of AP coursework by weighting these courses higher than other courses in the GPA calculation, which provides students with a higher weighted GPA, and potentially a higher class rank (for high schools that rank).

 AP classes can help you save money

Taking AP classes in high school (and scoring well on the exam) can yield college credit. Depending on your university’s requirements, you may not have to take these subjects again in college. So, instead of paying a substantial amount for the courses in college, you only have to pay a small portion in order to take the AP exam in high school (See AP’s college database for specific policies at each university). AP exams can also help you to graduate early, if you so desire.

AP course credit enables students to take higher-level courses and a broader array of courses

Earning college credit in high school will free up your schedule, giving you the opportunity to take more electives in college. Gaining course credit through AP exams allows you to skip introductory courses and enter directly into higher-level courses. This is helpful for students who have already chosen a major by allowing them to dive right into the material they find most interesting. It is also helpful for students who are undecided, as it allows them to take more electives by skipping some general education requirements.

 

How Many and Which AP courses Should You Take?

Students and parents often ask how many AP courses is the “right” amount to be competitive in college admissions. The answer, as with so many other college-related questions, is “it depends!” Here are a few factors that should inform your planning of which and how many AP courses to take:

  • How strong are you academically? It’s important to consider this honestly and frankly; you want to challenge yourself to a reasonable degree, but not be overwhelmed by coursework beyond your capabilities.
  • To that end, what are your academic and career interests? Many students do not yet have a definite plan for their major or career, which is perfectly fine! But if you do have interests at this point, and discuss them in your college applications, they should be supported by your academics.For example, if you plan to apply to an engineering school within a University, it would be expected that you take AP Calculus, and you would strengthen your admissions chances if you also take AP levels of relevant sciences, such as AP Biology for Biomedical Engineering, or AP Physics for Mechanical Engineering.
  • What is your work ethic? Are you willing to do the extra work required by AP courses, and to participate more deeply in classroom discussion?
  • What are your other commitments? Family or work obligations, extracurricular activities, and other commitments are both important and time-consuming. Evaluate your time realistically, and choose an appropriate number of AP courses.
  • What AP courses are available at your high school?
    Colleges evaluate the rigor of your high school curriculum relative to what’s available at your high school. In addition to ensuring that your course-load is manageable for you, evaluate it in the context of what’s available to you.

 Important Tips & Takeaways 

AP classes will challenge you on an intellectual level, ease transition to college, and give you a chance to earn college credit while still in high school. Nevertheless, it’s important for students to show a balance between formal and informal studies to college admissions officers. Often, students feel pressured to add another AP course — sometimes a fifth, sixth, or seventh — and, consequently, drop something they really enjoy, like sports, music, or extracurricular activities.

But in actuality, most admissions officers want to see well-rounded individuals who are involved in extracurricular activities. Therefore, it is not necessarily the best course of action to drop extracurricular activities in order to fit more courses into your schedule. Challenge yourself in a way that is reasonable for you, while making sure that your course load provides you with material that keeps you interested and engaged.

Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed, which could lead to burnout. “There are people who arrive at college out of gas,” says William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It’s crazy for students to think in lockstep they must take four or five or six advanced-placement courses because colleges demand it.”

Wondering what you should do? Collegiate Gateway has a wealth of experience in advising for future curriculum planning. Feel free to contact us—we’re always happy to help!

Who Benefits from Test-optional and Test-flexible Admissions Policies?

As the role of college entrance exams continues to shift, many students find it difficult to navigate evolving and variable testing requirements. The process is made even more complex by the growing number of “test-optional” schools that do not require students to submit the SAT or ACT.

Over 925 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake Forest, Smith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYU, Middlebury and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.

Many students question how to handle test-optional policies, and are unsure of whether or not they should submit their scores. In this blog, we will take a closer look at student choices in applying to test optional colleges and why more and more schools are offering test-optional admissions policies.

Which colleges offer test-optional policies? Are all policies the same?

FairTest.org offers a comprehensive list of the colleges that currently offer test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies. While colleges offering these policies include a variety of institutions, it is notable that many are small liberal arts colleges, public universities, and small Catholic colleges. With few exceptions, the most highly selective colleges continue to require standardized testing; besides being a standard indicator of college readiness, test scores can create a benchmark of acceptance for schools that are becoming inundated with ever-increasing applicant pools.

It is interesting to note that of the 50 highest-ranked national universities, only four have test-optional or test-flexible policies, including Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU, whereas 21 of the top-ranked liberal arts universities offer such testing options. One possible reason is that to attract applicants, the national universities rely more on US News & World Report’s rankings, which factor in test scores. In addition, small liberal arts universities are typically more holistic in their evaluations of candidates.

Test-optional and test-flexible policies vary widely, and the best way to make sure that you are submitting the correct testing requirements is to research the details on the specific college’s website.

For example, NYU (test-flexible) requires testing but students have a variety of options:

  • ACT (writing test not required)
  • SAT(essay test not required)
  • 3SAT Subject Test scores
  • 3AP exam scores
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma
  • 3IB higher-level exam scores if not an IB Diploma candidate
  • Nationally accredited examthat shows you completed your secondary education

Many test-optional schools require students who are not submitting test scores to meet additional requirements, including interviews, writing samples, teacher recommendations, or completing a Test-Optional Form. For example, Franklin & Marshall College requires students who choose to opt out of testing to submit two graded writing samples (creative or analytical), preferably from a humanities or social science course. Loyola University Maryland asks applicants who take advantage of their test-optional policy to submit an additional teacher recommendation and/or personal essay. At Virginia Commonwealth University, high school applicants must have at least a 3.3 GPA to bypass testing requirements.

Interestingly, many test-optional schools, including Marist College, require students to submit standardized test scores once they have been accepted and enroll. The schools use these test scores for the purposes of academic advisement and course placement.

Why do schools offer test-optional policies?

Increasing ethnic diversity

Many schools, including Wake Forest, claim that test-optional policies have led to a more diverse student body with no notable difference in academic achievement between students who opted out of testing and those who submitted scores. Wake Forest also states that ethnic diversity increased by 54% in the first seven years that their test-optional policy went into effect. A 2014 report from two former Bates College admissions officials, William Hiss and Valerie Franks, also found an increase in racial and socio-economic diversity at test-optional schools.

Focusing on holistic admissions

In determining whether an applicant is a good fit, test-optional schools stress the importance of examining the student’s complete academic profile. The College of the Holy Cross states, “We are test optional because we have found that a student’s academic history in high school is a better indicator of their scholastic ability than an exam taken on a singular Saturday morning.”

Fairness

Many institutions are disillusioned with current standardized testing, and feel that the test preparation available to the wealthy creates an unfair advantage. For example, Marist College states, “Many studies indicate performance on standardized tests is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible bias against certain minority students. Our experience shows that the rigor of a student’s program and overall academic performance can best illustrate commitment, motivation, work ethic, and a willingness to take on challenges.”

Improved US News Rankings

Intentional or not, the schools offering test-optional policies also tend to see improved U.S. News rankings. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia examined data from 32 selective liberal arts colleges, and found that, after going test-optional, these schools received an average increase of 220 applications and their mean SAT scores rose by an average of 26 points.

Selectivity and test scores are important factors in the U.S. News rankings. US News is transparent about the components that comprise its ranking methodology. 8.125% of rankings derive from the SAT critical reading and math portions; and the composite ACT score; and 1.25% from selectivity.

Test-optional policies tend to increase applicant numbers, creating higher selectivity for the schools, and since students who did better on standardized tests report their scores, while students with low scores often do not, the school can report artificially inflated test scores of accepted applicants. Test scores make up 65% of the US News selectivity rating, which becomes 12.5% of the larger weighting used to rank each college.

Notably, the only “test-blind” school, Hampshire College, is unranked by US News. Hampshire College does not consider any ACT or SAT scores as part of its admissions policy, and therefore has no scores to report. Sarah Lawrence was once “test-blind” as well, from 2003 to 2012. In 2012, Sarah Lawrence switched to a “test-optional” policy, presumably to rejoin the ranks of US News, among other reasons.

Bottom-line: Should I send my scores?

At the end of the day, you might be deliberating over whether or not to send your scores. Here are some considerations to assist in your decision:

Research the range of standardized test scores for accepted students

According to U.S. News, “If you do some research and find that your results fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median at more inclusive institutions, you may want to hold them back.”

Decide if your test scores accurately represent your potential as a student

At the College of the Holy Cross, Director of Admissions Ann McDermott writes, “If you feel your testing says something about you and your abilities, feel free to send them along. We will look at them in conjunction with your transcript, your recommendations, essay, and interview (if you have had one) and make our assessment.  If, on the other hand, you feel that your test scores do not represent you well, then do not hesitate to withhold them. We will not make any assumptions about your testing, and will focus our attention on your transcript and the other accompanying credentials that are contained in your application.”

Take a hard look at your academic performance and activity list

Jane H. Dane, associate vice president for enrollment management at Old Dominion University in Virginia, notes that applicants who withhold scores are “particularly scrutinized for other evidence of potential for success, like challenging course work and leadership skills. The more well-rounded you are, the better your chances of impressing without scores.”

Remember that regardless of testing policies, all schools look at more than your scores

Try to remember that test scores are just one part of your college application, and not even the most significant one. As the College Board reminds us, “College admission officers give the most weight and importance to your high school grades and whether you’re challenging yourself.”

Determining the best testing options for each student requires consideration of a variety of factors and personal preferences. For more information on standardized testing, or any other aspect of the college admissions process, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. We’re always happy to help!