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Swarthmore Admissions Extends Test-Optional Policy Through 2025

Trees in fall near science center

In consultation and partnership with the Office of Institutional Research, the Provost’s Office, and the Dean’s Office, Swarthmore’s Admissions Office has decided to suspend the standardized testing (SAT/ACT) requirement for fall 2023, 2024, and 2025 admission.

The test-optional policy was first put into place for fall 2021 admission in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was extended for fall 2022 as the pandemic continued to interrupt academic life for high school students. Swarthmore has extended the policy further so that the College can fully assess the academic implications across a longitudinal study. 

“The first class of students to be admitted under a test-optional policy have just started their second semester at Swarthmore, and since our first semester is pass/fail by design, they will not have grades until June of this year,” says Jim Bock ’90, vice president and dean of admissions. “By extending our policy for three years, we can better understand how students who were admitted without test scores fare over time and make an informed decision about our requirements. In addition, there are still many students who do not have easy access to testing.”

So how will the data from the test-optional entering classes be analyzed once it’s available? Robin Huntington Shores, assistant vice president for institutional effectiveness and assessment and assistant secretary of the College, plans to take a dual-pronged approach to the evaluation. 

“There are at least two ways in which we’d like to consider the impact of this pilot,” says Huntington Shores. “First, test scores are most predictive of course grades in the first year. We’ll want to know if students admitted without test scores perform similarly to those who submitted scores. And do they persist at the same rates? Second, did the opportunity to apply without test scores attract students who might otherwise not have applied?”

Beyond class grades, the College also plans to examine factors such as involvement in extracurricular activities, selection of majors, and graduation rates.

“Our comprehensive approach to decision-making allows us the time to consider options, to engage with faculty and others on campus, and to make a data-driven decision as to whether or not this policy change will become permanent,” says Bock. 

When it comes to reading applications with or without test scores, Bock assures that all students are given a holistic evaluation. 

“Our process changed very little,” he says. “Test scores were always just one factor, considered in the context of a student’s course selection, grades, rigor of offerings, character, activities, responsibilities, and background.

“We review files in teams of two and have an open conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of each applicant,” Bock says. “We still have those conversations — and perhaps more robust conversations — without standardized testing. We continue to rely on recommendations from school counselors, community-based organization advisers, school profiles (when they exist), teachers, and additional references, given the challenges of online learning, in addition to written essays that allow students to share their personal stories.”

Adds Sarah Willie-LeBreton, provost and dean of the faculty: “Our admissions process has always been centered on both excellence and inclusivity. I look forward to learning more about the outcomes of this extension, especially from the point of view of the faculty.”

The pandemic caused many high schools to adopt pass/fail grading policies and forgo standardized testing and exam preparation — reshaping the college admissions framework not just for Swarthmore, but across higher education.

“As we continue to navigate the pandemic and the unequal distribution of resources and access to resources,” Bock says, “we want all students to have the same opportunity to apply for admission.”

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