DePaul admissions drops ACT, SAT requirement

By Tricia Cathcart

The days of stressing over a less than desired ACT/SAT score are over, for potential DePaul students at least. Beginning in the fall quarter of 2012, DePaul University will be implementing a test-optional admission policy for incoming freshman.

This means that applicants will have the choice when submitting their high school transcripts to either report their ACT/SAT test scores, or instead, answer a number of open-ended essay questions. “The questions are aimed at eliciting evidence of students’ experience and other characteristics that have been shown to be better predictors of student success in college than standardized test scores,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for Enrollment Policy & Planning at DePaul.

Some of us may have heard this same concept from our guidance counselors back in high school, claiming that overall, solid core grades and a sufficient GPA on transcripts will prove more beneficial when applying for college admission than the flat marks of an ACT or SAT assessment. This new policy reinforces that idea, lessening the nerve-racking burden of attaining a perfect score for high school seniors.

DePaul freshman Taylor Boyle, Psychology, believes that this is an excellent option for incoming students. “It’s a great idea, standardized testing doesn’t accurately gauge a student’s work. Maybe they get worried when they are taking these tests, maybe they are a more creative person and that part of their personality doesn’t show through the testing.”

In agreement, freshman Sayre Shannon, English, says, “I would have liked to have that option. It gives students a new way to express themselves and show their intelligence through the essays, instead of a basic ACT/SAT test.”

No DePaul faculty members were available to comment on the change in policy.

Research by experts at DePaul and at other institutions shows that the best predictor of a student’s success in college is his or her performance in a rigorous, college preparatory program in high school, and that standardized test scores add little if anything to that, said Boeckenstedt. In some cases, standardized test scores may even skew admission toward students who are good test-takers while eliminating those who are not, he said.

“Test scores don’t add much above and beyond high school GPAs, and researchers point out that test scores vary widely by income and ethnicity,” Boeckenstedt said. “This raises some concerns about putting certain students with strong high school performance at a disadvantage.”

This test-optional admission route will benefit the students who lack the resources to take the standardized tests multiple times or to take advantage of detailed preparation and coaching, both of which can end up being expensive. It also simplifies the process for students who have proven to be accomplished in their high school coursework, but not necessarily in a high-stakes testing environment, Boeckenstedt said.

“It’s almost noise in the equation,” Boeckenstedt said of requiring ACT/SAT scores. “Most of the variance in student success is explained by four-years of academic success in high school, and then performance on a four hour test on a Saturday doesn’t tell us much more.” He stressed that often, students won’t apply at DePaul, simply because their standardized testing scores don’t fall within or above the general score for admission. The average ACT of an admitted DePaul student is 24.9. “They were a great student [in high school], they got great grades, they’re clearly going to succeed here, and they don’t even put themselves in the running,” he said.

This new policy aims to accommodate those students who fall in that category, giving them a chance to showcase their abilities. Focusing more on their high school grades assures the admission department that these students will do the academic work and prove to be quality additions to DePaul, improving the overall student profile of the university.

Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, the president of DePaul, said that this new policy results from several years of tracking student success at DePaul. “We learned that the combination of their high school GPA and their extracurricular accomplishments are better predictors of college success than SAT or ACT scores,” Holtschneider said. “We also learned that this approach better helped us identify non-traditional students who would do very well here.”

The Diamond project allowed DePaul to measure qualities in students such as leadership, long-term goals, positive self-concept and a supportive family in the admission process. After three years of using this method, the university made the decision to move toward the test-optional admission route.

“Data shows that it’s the right thing to do. It’s better for the student and the university,” said David Kalsbeek, senior vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing. “The things we measure with Diamond really do level the playing field.”

This admission policy pilot program is planned to run for the next four years-until 2016, after which its impact will be thoroughly evaluated to determine whether or not it will become a permanent procedure at the university.

Other institutions that have adopted test-optional programs include Bates College, Lawrence University, Providence College, College of the Holy Cross, Fairfield University and Wake Forest University.

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