Admissions moves to test optional, giving students ‘one less hurdle’
Serena Zacharias | Friday, August 14, 2020
In June, Notre Dame announced admissions will not require standardized test scores for the 2020-2021 application period. Although COVID-19 concerns catalyzed this change, associate vice president of undergraduate enrollment Don Bishop said this decision has been years in the making.
For the past 10 years, Bishop said admissions has considered test scores less and less in applications in favor of a holistic approach. In fact, in the 2019-2020 application cycle, less than half of the students who applied with an ACT score between 35-36 and an SAT score higher than 1550 gained admission.
(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the SAT score as being higher than 5050 rather than 1550. The Observer regrets this error.)
Instead, admissions reviews extracurriculars, letters of recommendation and essays to determine an applicant’s motivation for success, which the admissions team rates highly in choosing students.
Bishop expects the admitted class of 2025 to display the same academic prowess as students in previous years despite the University’s decision to be test optional.
“Being test optional is not going to mean we’re less selective,” he said. “What it means is that your class performance is going to be really important for us to evaluate.”
Director of admissions Christy Pratt said her office first evaluates an applicant’s academic preparation, then moves on to the rest of the application.
“We open up with the transcript and the high school profile, what was offered to that student in their high school, what have they taken, have they continued to challenge themselves, each and every year throughout high school and obviously the grades achieved on it,” Pratt said. “And we’re hoping that they’re maximizing what’s available to them.”
In addition to academics, Pratt said admissions looks for students who are passionate about their activities and will utilize the resources Notre Dame has to offer.
“It’s not the quantity of [checking] off every single box,” Pratt said. “It’s more of what are you involved in and what are you passionate about and what that’s sharing with us. … We’re not looking for someone who’s president of 15 clubs. Well, if you’re president of 15 clubs, then how are you able to give so much of yourself?”
Pratt sees the University’s decision to go test optional as “one less hurdle for students to jump over.”
Admissions has been attempting to remove barriers for students in the last few years, and becoming test optional will further this goal, she said. As a part of this progression, admissions began to allow students to self report test scores on their application portal two years ago. The student is only required to provide an official testing report if they decide to enroll at Notre Dame.
“It’s one less thing that a student has to pay for to send to however many schools that they did so that was kind of that first step of let’s take away this barrier,” Pratt said.
Because of the holistic admissions process, Bishop said students who elect to not send a score will not be at a disadvantage to comparable students who choose to send in a score. For many reasons, he has grown to be more skeptical of standardized test scores in identifying students to admit.
“In the last few years, I have never seen so many applicants with high test scores that the rest of their application does not align with,” Bishop said. “I’m concerned whether they got help on their essays beyond their own abilities. I’m concerned whether their test score was over practiced, and it’s not indicative of their talent.”
For students concerned about comparing their test scores to that of previous classes, Bishop said admissions will take the country’s current circumstances into consideration. He expects the national distribution of test scores to decrease because of a lack of access to taking the test multiple times and to practice with personal counselors.
“We’re only going to compare you with the pool that applies with you that is laboring under the same circumstances that you,” he said. “We’re really looking at the proportional success.”
Admissions plans on piloting this program for one year, and at the end, they will determine whether they want to continue test optional in future admissions.
“I am really excited along with the entire team that we’re putting that power back in the hands of our applicants to decide if they want to include a test score within their application,” Pratt said.