Applying test-optional at Bryn Mawr

Test-optional institutions allow students to decide whether they want to submit testing as part of their applications. While Bryn Mawr has been test-optional to domestic students for about five years, this year Bryn Mawr will be test-optional for international applicants as well.

While this may be exciting for some, we recognize that others may feel differently. Before COVID-19 most colleges were not test-optional, but much has changed since the beginning of the pandemic and schools across the country have continued to revise policies around testing. We recognize that these changes may feel disheartening. After all, students spend years preparing to take these tests, only to be told that they may matter less than they thought. For some students, the SAT and ACT represent an essential part of their academic identity. It can be unclear what specific elements colleges and universities may be seeking from applicants who submit applications without scores.

But don’t worry — test-optional policies are not new. More than 1,100 colleges and universities implemented these kinds of policies before COVID-19. While each institutional policy may vary, they all minimize the weight of testing in the admissions process. Some schools are even test blind, meaning that even if you submit test scores, they will not review them. So why would a college have a test-optional or test blind policy? There are two main reasons:

  1. Access: Not all students, especially those from low-income, first-generation, or non-U.S. backgrounds, have easy access to standardized testing. Location and testing fees can serve as a barrier to these tests. In turn, by requiring standardized testing, some colleges and universities are not accessible to students who cannot access the tests for various reasons.
  2. Success: Research shows that standardized tests may not be the best indicator of student success in college. While high scores can correlate with strong first-year college grades, they are also highly correlated to socioeconomic status, race, and a family history of attending college. Additionally, given that test-optional admissions practices are not a new phenomenon, there is quite a substantive amount of research that exists and affirms that a test-optional admissions model does not diminish the academic merit of an admitted class.

While testing can be a good measure of academic success for some students, it is not the only or best way to determine a student’s readiness for college. At Bryn Mawr, we employ a holistic application review process, which means we review several application components to determine a student’s fit for Bryn Mawr. Students who submit testing will be reviewed with testing in mind, but the scores will not carry as much weight as a transcript, essays, or recommendations. For students who don’t submit testing, we use all the other components to make a decision.

We believe in the merit of allowing students to discern whether testing is a strength they possess and to reflect on the way to put their best foot forward as an applicant. At its heart, that’s all a test-optional policy is, an opportunity for students to exercise agency in the college search process. Students are not all cut from the same cloth, and we are pleased to provide flexibility to increase access and equity. We look forward, as always, to getting to know students beyond the numbers to determine if they are a good fit for our community.

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