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EDITORIAL: The Claremont Colleges Should Require Test Scores for Admission

Photograph from 2y.kang.

For years, standardized test scores were the primary metric used by admissions officers. Last year, more than 80 percent of schools—including all five Claremont Colleges—did not require them. Advocates of test-optional admissions claim that these tests are unfairly biased in favor of wealthy applicants and are a poor measure of academic merit. In truth, standardized tests have long been—and continue to be—the most objective metric available.

While it is true that tutors help wealthy students improve their scores, a Dartmouth study found that test-optional policies are “likely a barrier to… identifying less-advantaged students who would succeed at Dartmouth.”

Without test scores, admissions officers have to rely on less-predictive measures of college success like academic rigor and essays. This only exaggerates wealthy students’ advantage. Affluent schools offer them more AP courses. Well-connected parents give them access to flashy extracurriculars. And admissions consultants write college essays for them. 

Even Rick Singer, the notorious mastermind of the Varsity Blues scandal, knew tutors were not enough. He had to bribe proctors to rig tests in their favor. It is much harder to fake a test score than an essay or extracurricular. If Rick Singer were not in jail, he would welcome the move away from standardized tests. 

Metrics like high school GPA are unreliable indicators of student ability. The Dartmouth study concluded that high school GPA accounted for only 3 percent of variation in first-year GPA. Admissions committees find it difficult to gauge the rigor of schools they are not familiar with; this became harder when many schools stopped reporting class rank.

Test scores are highly predictive of college success. The Dartmouth study found that the “SAT by itself explains about 22 [percent] of the variation in first-year GPA,” even when controlling for high school GPA and class rank. 

Despite the policy’s flaws, colleges have an incentive to remain test optional: More unqualified students apply, artificially lowering acceptance rates. Only students with good scores choose to submit them, driving up SAT and ACT medians. Before Claremont McKenna went test optional, its average SAT score was 1429. Last year, it was 1500. College rankings rely on these metrics, and schools that require tests risk falling behind.

Scripps, Pomona, Mudd and Claremont McKenna are already test optional. Pitzer is test-blind, meaning it does not consider scores at all. Let’s hope the Claremont Colleges have the courage to disregard rankings and reverse course.


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