September 2020

multiple choice test

This spring eight Minnesota Private Colleges decided to go test optional starting in the fall of 2020, joining the four that had previously made the move. Although the timing of these decisions coincided with COVID-19, there are many different reasons for institutions to make this change, one that can take years to put in motion.

Gustavus Adolphus College has been test optional for 15 years. “The decision to go test optional was fueled by a couple of things,” said Rich Aune, associate vice president and dean of admission at Gustavus. “There was consensus that some qualified students opted out of applying to Gustavus because of their test scores — we knew these students could succeed and we wanted them to apply. Also, we understood that there were students who didn’t have access to test prep or resources to take the tests multiple times and didn’t want them punished by the process.”

At the time Gustavus made the change, the college anticipated that the academic preparation of its students wouldn’t be affected. “Data suggested that what the student takes in high school and how well they were doing was a better predictor of success than the test scores,” Aune said. “And generally speaking, we haven’t seen a difference in success between our students who take tests and those who don’t.”

Recently Macalester College went test optional — that decision was several years in the making, but it ended up overlapped with COVD-19. “We began to seriously consider a test optional admissions environment after Macalester’s 2015 strategic plan,” said Jeff Allen, vice president for admissions and financial aid at Macalester. “The decision-making process involved admissions staff, students, faculty, and other stakeholders,” Allen said. “In the final analysis, we felt that these test scores weren’t adding a lot to the admissions process. We feel really confident that we do not need test scores in order to make sound admissions decisions in-line with Macalester’s enrollment priorities.” 

One of the main concerns institutions have had with ACT and SAT is that the tests aren’t equitable — and often removing the barrier of testing aligns with the mission of the college. Hamline University made a shift to go test optional this spring and Mai Nhia Xiong-Chan, vice president of enrollment management, mentioned these concerns. “Our admissions criteria remain rigorous and the hurdle of testing, which has a bigger and more negative effect on students of lower economic status, has been removed,” Xiong-Chan said. “The decision is in alignment with our educational mission and promotes equity and inclusion.”

This doesn’t mean COVID-19 didn’t have an impact on admissions test requirements and some colleges took the issues with testing this year as a catalyst to make needed changes. Check out the complete list of Minnesota Private Colleges that are test optional.

By Tom Lancaster