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Swarthmore College Announces Changes to Admissions Testing Requirements

magill walk

In anticipation of the College Board’s introduction of a redesigned SAT in March 2016, Swarthmore College assessed its standardized testing requirements and has adopted several changes. 

Beginning with the 2015-2016 admissions cycle, applicants to Swarthmore are required to submit either the SAT or the ACT, though the writing sections of the SAT and the ACT will no longer be considered when applications are reviewed. 

As the redesigned SAT is introduced, students do not need to sit for the optional essay. Students also no longer need to sit for the ACT optional writing section. 

“We value writing, and it is of critical importance in being a successful college student,” says Jim Bock, vice president and dean of admissions. “But the essay sections of both exams have now been made optional by the testing agencies and we believe there are other ways to determine success in college. These new requirements will better serve our holistic review of new student applications.”

Applicants in the 2016-2017 admissions cycle may submit either the ACT or the existing or revised SAT. Each will be given equal consideration.

SAT Subject Tests are not required for admission, though they will be considered if submitted. Prospective engineering majors are encouraged to submit the Math 2 SAT Subject Test.

“Based on our own research and analysis, we did not find a strong correlation between the essay test scores and performance at Swarthmore,” says Bock. A review of standardized test scores at time of entry for several recent cohorts of Swarthmore students and their academic performance at the College, he adds, indicated that the essay scores were, at best, very modest predictors of academic success and not meaningful enough to merit further consideration in the admissions process.

Despite this change, writing remains an integral part of the College’s evaluation of new students.

“Our ‘Why Swarthmore?’ essay is an opportunity for applicants to showcase their writing skills, as well as communicate a sense of who they are,” Bock says. “This component of a student’s application remains a very valuable part of the process.”

The changes to the testing requirements are consistent with Swarthmore’s commitment to an accessible application process in which students submit credentials that are meaningful indicators of success once enrolled.

“Our application requirements are designed to gather information that helps us understand how our applicants will thrive as students at Swarthmore,” says J.T. Duck, director of admissions. “We are interested in learning students’ stories, their intellectual motivations, their extra-curricular interests, and what makes them tick. Standardized test scores are just one of many considerations in our holistic review of each candidate’s application.”

“We hope this change in our testing requirements reduces barriers to college access for all students,” Duck adds.  “First-generation, low-income, and other under-represented students in particular often have limited access to college planning resources. Unnecessarily complicated or expensive testing requirements do not serve these students well on their path to selective colleges. Where we knew we could remove obstacles that didn’t add much value to our process, we did.”

“We always seek to bring a strong, well-rounded class of students to campus each year,” Bock says.  “We think this change in our requirements will strengthen that effort.”

More information on the College Board’s testing changes can be found at

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