Vassar test-optional policy elicits mixed reactions

Tori Kim/The Miscellany News.

On April 13, Vassar announced that it will adopt a permanent test-optional policy for future applicants. The press release informs readers that the test-optional policy that has been upheld by the College since the 2020-2021 college application cycle will become permanent during the 2023-2024 admissions cycle. This decision was made in collaboration with the College’s Committee on Admission and Financial Aid (CAFA) and Sonya Smith, the Vice President and Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services. 

According to President Elizabeth Bradley, the College’s decision to go permanently test-optional stems from research on standardized testing and its impediment to a holistic application assessment. Bradley further explained, “The biggest downside to standardized testing is that studies show disparities in test scores associated with socioeconomic background, so they can disadvantage outstanding applicants who nonetheless lack the resources needed to be coached or prepared to do well on these tests, thus reducing the chances of college acceptance despite strong qualifications and the exhibited capacity to do well in college.”

Many studies support her claim, including the American University School of Education. Its research shows that standardized testing is not an accurate measurement of one’s intelligence or capacity for learning, but rather a measurement of one’s ability to take a test. Further, a study on race, poverty and standardized test scores by Dixon-Román et al. found a strong correlation between wealthy students and high standardized test scores. In other words, those who have access to tutoring, attend well-funded schools and can afford to take the SAT or ACT multiple times are more likely to score higher on these exams. And these tests have their roots in racial discrimination; according to the National Education Association, standardized testing began as a way to segregate people of color from schools, jobs and the military. 

With undeniable ties between standardized test scores and race and socioeconomic status, it is clear that this form of assessment can be unfair and discriminatory against marginalized students. 

In lieu of standardized test scores, Vassar’s admissions officers will focus on other aspects of a student’s application, such as supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, GPA and meaningful extracurricular activities. “When looking at Vassar and academic performance indicators, high school GPA is a strong predictor of college GPA and likelihood of graduation,” Bradley confirmed in an email correspondence. 

Shortly after the press releases’ publication, Vassar College uploaded the statement to its social media accounts. Comments from students, parents and alums came flooding in: The Facebook post announcing the test-optional policy has accrued 137 comments at the time of this article’s publication. One user, Randy DeVoe, commented, “The whole anti-test is stupid because tests are [an] essential part of life. Can we opt out of the LSAT, MCAT, GRE, Series 7.. etc etc? Employers for typical civil service jobs require tests…The US Military requires the ASVAB [sic] test. Should medical students opt out of the Medical Boards? Maybe lawyers could opt out of the Bar exam.” Alum Roberta Green, another opponent of the test-optional policy writes, “Admitting students incapable of competing at the college level will be the result. They will fail, drop out and be burdened with student loan debts. Selective colleges should use every available tool to screen out mediocre applicants. Diplomas should not be participation trophies.” 

But many shared their support of the College’s change. Michael Rambadt-Urkiel commented, “Hallelujah!! This is such a terrific step forward and just one more reason to be proud of my Alma mater!” Tulani Bridgewater-Kowalski ’93 echoed this sentiment: “This is fantastic. Optional is the right move. Some students excel at testing, others do not. This will give admissions greater flexibility to take the entire student into account.” 

Vassar’s Linkedin post elicited a similar mix of reactions. Andrew Utas ’09 expressed his disdain for this change, stating, “This will almost certainly allow for more nepotism and to further disadvantage smart, poor kids who can manage to study for relatively elementary tests, but whose resumes are otherwise less impressive. It may also lead to a less-intelligent student body which will either cause the less-intelligent admits to suffer, for the institution to become less rigorous, or both.”

Danny McBee ’10 added, “I look forward to it also becoming transcript optional for folks who are too unstructured for rigid HS curriculums, and essay optional for people who prefer other means of expression rather than writing (TikTok essays?!).” 

Among the supporters, Michele Corbett ’07 commented: “What a great way to allow the students to present their whole selves in their application rather than only the ones who take tests well.” Another Vassar alum, Michele Gibson ’98, wrote: “With all eight Ivy League schools already being test-optional, and after three years of a pilot program, Vassar finally made the switch. I’m thrilled to see this new standard at my alma mater and have no doubt the rigorous vetting process will still yield high-caliber students.” 

On campus, students have generally expressed positive sentiments about this change. Naomi Taylor ’24 shared, “While it would’ve been nice if Vassar had decided to go test optional while I was applying, I’m definitely glad that they’re finally doing it for future incoming classes.” She continued, “I don’t think that standardized testing is indicative at all of overall student performance as they are only testing one way of learning and displaying intelligence, which isn’t reflective of the many different ways that people process or present information.” Tajbiha Faisal ’25 is a supporter of the new test-optional policy as well. “I think students have more to offer a college than just their grades,” she commented.

Despite mixed reactions, Bradley and Smith are confident that this policy will in no way hinder the College’s reputation or academic expectations. Smith notes, “Vassar has already been test-optional for three years as part of a pilot program. Our students’ academic credentials have been as strong as ever.” Chloe Mengden ’24 commented, “I have no doubt that Vassar will continue to recruit exceptional students because I don’t believe that a test score was ever a “make or break” factor for Vassar students who excel in so many areas beyond standardized testing.”

Not requiring applicants to submit test scores is just one way that Vassar is working to break down the various social and racial barriers associated with college admissions. “Our efforts to sustain meeting full demonstrated financial need, collaborations with Questbridge and College Horizons, and our Vassar Vets program are all initiatives to ensure we recruit strongly from all socioeconomic groups,” Bradley explained. Smith expressed a similar sentiment, concluding: “Whether it’s visiting a wide range of high schools throughout the country in the fall, hosting unique on-campus programming for prospective students like Rooted: Community at Vassar, or collaborating with college access organizations, we strive to cast a wide net because we know talent comes from every zip code.”

One Comment

  1. I am a prof and I don’t like it. Yes it is an imperfect measure of an applicant. This means it should be weighted accordingly by admissions counselors, not eliminated. One can choose to take a holistic approach even with a test score in the application. The only potential advantage of this policy is for individuals who cannot afford the test and sending scores. If inequity of the cost is the rationale, then fine. But for “holistic” review, that’s not a valid reason IMHO. The other possible downside is the presumably now greater weight placed on essays. With AI and the ability to hire essay writers, essays will be an increasingly noisy measure of an applicant, more so than tests. Again, IMHO.

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