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W&M announces SAT, ACT test-optional admission pilot

  • Closeup of sundial at Swem Library.
    Expanding access  William & Mary will launch a three-year pilot program that makes optional the submission of standardized test scores for undergraduate applicants in 2020-2021.  
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Three-year study addresses COVID-19 impacts on applicants, allows W&M to gauge policy change

William & Mary will make standardized test scores optional for undergraduate applicants in the 2020-2021 admission cycle under a new three-year pilot program.

The program will allow applicants the option of submitting SAT and ACT scores, but no longer require them for their applications to be considered under William & Mary’s holistic review, a comprehensive process that emphasizes multiple criteria, including grades, strength of curriculum, extracurricular accomplishments, essays, recommendations and personal experiences.

The pilot responds immediately to difficulties high school students are facing in scheduling the standardized tests, which were widely canceled in the spring and summer and are not planned to resume until August.

“Given the uncertainty of the current testing climate, we believe this is imperative in responding to applicants’ needs,” said Tim Wolfe, associate vice president for enrollment and dean of admission. “Even when students are able to resume testing, we recognize that limited options and concerns for many students will still exist. By providing the added flexibility of a test-optional process, we seek to support students by assuring them that they’ll be able to confidently apply through our holistic review process with or without SAT or ACT scores.”

William & Mary joins other institutions across the country in amending admission policies regarding standardized tests. This includes schools announcing that they will not require test results for one year in response to COVID-19, schools such as William & Mary engaging in multi-year pilot programs and schools that already had test-optional policies in place.

In April, the entire University of California system announced a one-year suspension of test requirements. Many top national liberal arts colleges and a number of top public and private universities have gone test-optional for 2020-2021, Wolfe noted.

William & Mary already was weighing a pilot program before the novel coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, Wolfe said, but the timing became more urgent in response to access challenges potential applicants were facing.

“Given the limited opportunities for current high school juniors to take standardized tests this year, it makes perfect sense to allow test-optional admissions next year,” said English Professor Kim Wheatley, chair of the Admission Policy Advisory Committee, which supported the decision to move forward with the implementation of the test-optional process.

“A more flexible admissions process is essential in the current uncertain circumstances,” she said. “But beyond that, it’s a great idea to make a virtue of necessity by having next year be the start of this three-year pilot. I enthusiastically support this move, especially as it could well benefit under-represented students who may not have access to special ACT and SAT tutoring.”

The university opted to roll-out a three-year pilot to allow university officials to weigh fully the effects of the policy as a full cohort of undergraduates moves through William & Mary. Studies have suggested that flexibility on the test requirements does not adversely affect class composition and in fact, encourages applications from qualified students, especially under-represented student populations.

William & Mary’s undergraduate application process includes some flexibility already; applicants can choose to conduct an optional interview, add an essay in addition to the one required and submit supplementary recommendations.

“It’s also important to note that ‘test-optional’ does not mean ‘test-blind,’” said Henry Broaddus, vice president for strategic initiatives and public affairs. “We will still consider test scores as part of the holistic review, if they are submitted. But we don’t want them to be a barrier, especially as students respond to the current pandemic.”