Here’s some of what you’ll need to apply to Willamette University: your high school transcripts, a letter of recommendation from one of your teachers, a list of extracurricular activities and a $50 application fee.
What you won’t need: SAT or ACT test scores.
Willamettte is joining a growing number of colleges nationwide in adopting a test-optional admission process.
Beginning fall of 2017, undergraduate prospective students will no longer be required to submit standardized test scores.
Those who don’t want to include their scores will instead write about what Willamette’s motto — “Not unto ourselves alone are we born” — and values might mean for their educational goals and vocational aspirations in an essay.
More than 850 colleges and universities nationwide are test-optional as of spring 2016, according to FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
Lewis and Clark College in Portland has been test-optional since 1991.
Lisa Meyer, dean for enrollment and communications at Lewis and Clark, said 8 to 10 percent of applicants choose the test-optional route.
She said 7,800 students applied to the college this year, with an entering class of 550 students.
She said the conversation began by asking, “How do we understand the work students do outside of standardized tests?”
She said GPA was also not a solid enough factor on its own, since it does not show the rigor at which the student is capable of working. To bridge the gap and gain a “holistic” understanding of the students’ capabilities, admissions decided those who did not submit test scores needed to send in a portfolio of work.
Similarly, Puget Sound University in Tacoma, Washington is a newer test-optional school.
In their first year, Puget Sound experienced a 10 percent increase in applications overall and an 18 percent increase in underrepresented students, said Jenny Rickard, vice president for enrollment at the Puget Sound.
She said thirteen percent of their applicants decided to apply test optional and respond to two short-answer questions in place of the score submission.
Other schools, such as Western Oregon University in Monmouth and Portland State University, are “test-flexible,” meaning there are some caveats to their admissions options. Portland State, for instance, requires SAT or ACT scores for incoming freshman, but exceptions apply for students who have not attended high school three years prior to the term they intend to begin or those who have taken the GED.
Some colleges adopted the test-flexible process to give some case-by-case considerations to different students’ needs; whereas schools such as Lewis and Clark and Willamette have adopted the policy to increase access and inclusivity.
The change at Willamette was considered for many reasons, most notably reports say requiring the SAT or ACT could dissuade talented, underrepresented students from applying.
“We believe that Willamette’s College of Liberal Arts can go test optional in admissions and thereby enhance student diversity while maintaining — if not improving — academic quality and graduation rates,” said Sammy Basu, politics professor and chair of the Faculty Admission Committee.
Willamette’s Academic Council endorsed the proposal to be test-optional after a nearly two-year discussion, evaluation and creation of a summary report by the university’s Faculty Admission Committee.
According to Willamette’s summary report, “many smart and high-achieving but low-income students do not apply to selective and elite colleges” for various reasons, many pertaining to “lack of familiarity with the private college (culture)” or the fact they did not take the SAT/ACT and think there are inadmissible.
In fact, according to the report, “a striking two-thirds of college-bound applicants completing the FAFSA process to determine eligibility for Federal financial aid identify only one school to which they are seeking admission.”
Willamette’s action also reflects the goals outlined in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s recent report, “Turning the Tide,” aimed at providing greater intellectual and ethical engagement in the admission process, said Russell Yost, a Willamette spokesman.
According to “Turning the Tide,” SAT and ACT scores remain strong predictors of first-year college success; however, the Willamette committee’s report cites evidence that a “holistic” review of an applicant’s high school record has comparable predictive power.
The Faculty Admission Committee analyzed the last two years of incoming Willamette students and found that such an informed review of high school performance, including GPA, was a stronger predictor of first-year students’ grades than the SAT.
It is predicted only 5 to 10 percent of applicants to Willamette will opt out of test submissions, or about 200-600 students, said Michael Beseda, vice president for Enrollment and University Communications.
But reports such as “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions” by William Hiss and Valeria Franks of Bates College are finding those who take advantage of the option and don’t submit test scores are overwhelmingly women, first-generation students and other underserved students who may have felt the standardized tests were obstacles in the past.
“Institutions that have succeeded in building more inclusive communities go beyond making tests optional in admissions,” Beseda said.
Beseda said this change will add extra work for the admissions team and others at Willamette, which he said is already stretched thin, but he said they will make it work.
“Colleges should support all students during the transition from high school to college, including mentoring interactions with professors,” he said. “This support is even more critical for students from underrepresented groups.”
Some test-optional or test-flexible colleges in Oregon include:
- Lewis and Clark College, Portland, test-optional
- Marylhurst University, Marylhurst, test-optional
- Multnomah University, Portland, test-optional
- New Hope Christian College, Eugene, test-optional
- Oregon State University, Cascades Campus, Bend, test-flexible
- Portland State University, Portland, test-flexible
- Western Oregon University, Monmouth, test-flexible