Tufts to pilot test-optional admissions in 3-year trial

Bendetson Hall, Office of Undergraduate Admissions is pictured on Feb. 28, 2018. Vintus Okonkwo / The Tufts Daily Archives

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions opted to go test-optional for a three-year cycle, beginning with applicants matriculating in fall 2021, which was announced in a March 24 blog post by Dean of Admissions JT Duck.

Tufts was not actively considering a test-optional policy, but made the decision due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on high school students’ ability to obtain standardized test scores, according to Duck. 

He explained that, without a policy change, qualified students could be overlooked by Admissions as a result of the inaccessibility of ACT and SAT tests during the pandemic. 

“With various testing dates being curtailed or canceled, we worried that students who could be great matches for Tufts would not have access to the exams on a reasonable timeline,” Duck wrote in an email to the Daily. “To me, it was indefensible to miss out on great students because of too much rigidity about a testing requirement.”

Tufts is implementing a three-year trial rather than a single test year because one year of data is not enough to provide insight on the impact of a test-optional policy on admissions, according to Duck.

The experiences of other colleges and universities with test-optional or test-flexible policies gave Admissions confidence that this decision was best, according to Duck. He added that the announcement of the new change was well-received. 

“Reaction to date has been very positive. Students and parents appreciate what we have done to relieve stress at a time of great uncertainty,” Duck wrote. “And some other colleges and universities have followed our lead and adopted multi-year trials as well.”

Schools that decide to go test-optional usually remain test-optional because they find that it is a better way to conduct admissions, according to Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest).

Schaeffer called test-optional policies a “win-win” for schools and applicants because applications can be evaluated from more than a score, which is important in the current environment when scores and tests are difficult or impossible to obtain.

“We know from independent research literature and the experiences of 1,050 colleges that were test-optional before this year that, in general, when schools go test-optional they get more applicants, they get better-qualified applicants with stronger high school records and they get more diverse applicants of all sorts,” Schaeffer said. 

He also claimed that once test scores are eliminated as a mandatory component, admissions teams can make better judgments. 

Schaeffer applauded Tufts’ decision to adopt a test-optional policy, saying it sets a precedent for other schools in the greater Boston area as well as Tufts’ national peers to follow suit.

According to FairTest’s Test-Optional Growth Chronology from 2005-2020, Tufts is one of 53 universities that announced this semester test-optional policies of various time lengths and one of seven other universities with a three-year pilot. 

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) published a series of guidelines on April 1 advising colleges and universities on how admissions will be affected by COVID-19. 

While AACRAO suggested that admissions teams consider waiving standardized testing requirements and other admissions practices, it cautioned institutions to take into account the larger ramifications of adjusting their policies.

“What may help students and applicants today may complicate situations in the future,” the association’s guidance said.

Results from a survey AACRAO conducted seeking to assess the impact of COVID-19 found that 94% out of 262 responding institutions have changed, or are considering changing, admissions practices in response to the pandemic. 

“We hope Tufts tracks this experience closely and makes its reports public so other admissions offices and the general public can see the impact of test-optional policies,” Schaeffer said. “We’re confident that it will be positive, but let’s see the data.”


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