Few colleges join Bates in dropping SAT
For Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, dropping the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as an admissions requirement reflects a desire to send a message to high school students and their parents.Skip to next paragraph
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''What we're trying to say,'' says William Hiss, dean of admissions at the small private college, ''is that what you do for the four or five years before you come here - and not just on one morning's exam - is what we will be very carefully evaluating.'' The decision to drop the SAT, announced in October, is effective with this year's admissions.
Included in Bates's evaluation are grade-point average and class standing, as well as the difficulty of courses taken, reputation of the high school attended, depth and breadth of extracurricular activities, and writing ability.
The school's decision to drop the SAT requirement for admission reflects a small but growing trend at colleges to make the admissions process more personal and to produce better-rounded freshman classes.
For example, the University of Miami, a private college of 18,000 students in Coral Gables, Fla., has reduced its reliance on direct mailing while beefing up its staff of admissions officers. The school will concentrate on developing contacts with high school guidance counselors, and it has assigned professional counselors to represent the school in its major student markets. Campus visits will also be more heavily promoted.
And Harvard University, which now requires the two-part SAT (with verbal and math sections) and three College Board Achievement Tests, is considering dropping the SAT but requiring five achievement tests.
Bates's decision may also show that, with a college's reputation increasingly important as numbers of high school graduates drop, schools are working harder to keep their names in the limelight. Certainly the national coverage generated by the decision did not displease Bates. And now Colby College, in Waterville, Maine, is taking the opportunity to set itself apart as ''the only selective liberal arts college in Maine that requires the SAT.'' (Bowdoin College in Brunswick stopped requiring the SAT in 1969.)
At Colby, a study completed two years ago found that standardized tests, including the SAT, can be useful in predicting how well a student will do at the school. As a result, the school decided to continue requiring either the SAT or the American College Test (ACT), and three College Board Achievement Tests. Reflecting the findings of other schools, Colby found that the English composition portion of the achievement tests was the best predictor of success at the school. It also found that the math portion of the SAT had useful predictive value. ''We decided that not to require the SAT would be to deprive us of information that is sometimes very useful,'' says Robert McArthur, Colby's dean of admissions.
As Colby's decision suggests, the changes at Bowdoin and Bates do not mean that the SAT and other standardized tests are about to lose their importance as tools used by colleges for admissions and, later, placement.
Philip McCabe, dean of admissions at Northeastern University in Boston, says his school - the largest private university in the United States - will continue to require the SAT and three College Board Achievement Tests as it stokes efforts to attract a national and international student body.
But he adds that it is rare for the school to ''reject or accept'' on the basis of the tests alone. Reflecting a general movement, he says that ''over the past few years the SAT has been used more and more for determining placement'' in math and English courses.
And Richard Shaw, assistant director of admissions at the University of California at Berkeley, says he sees little chance that selective public universities will move away from standardized tests such as the SAT and College Board Achievement Tests. Still, ''The grade-point average, keeping in mind the content of the courses, remains the best predictor of how a student will do,'' Mr. Shaw says. ''A good number of our students are taken on the GPA and the tests.''