Photo: Hampshire College
ONE YEAR AFTER HAMPSHIRE’S DECISION TO STOP ACCEPTING SAT/ACT SCORES IN ADMISSIONS, WE ARE SEEING REMARKABLE RESULTS.
By Jonathan Lash, President, Hampshire College
You won’t find our college in the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings released this month. Last year Hampshire College decided not to accept SAT/ACT test scores from high school applicants seeking admission. That got us kicked off the rankings, disqualified us, per U.S. News rankings criteria. That’s OK with us.
We completely dropped standardized tests from our application as part of our new mission-driven admissions strategy, distinct from the “test-optional” policy that hundreds of colleges now follow. If we reduce education to the outcomes of a test, the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores. Teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. Our greatly accelerating world needs graduates who are trained to address tough situations with innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and a capacity for mobilizing collaboration and cooperation. We weighed other factors in our decision:
Standardized test scores do not predict a student’s success at our college
- SATs/ACTs are strongly biased against low-income students and students of color, at a time when diversity is critical to our mission
- We surveyed our students and learned not one of them had considered rankings when choosing to apply to colleges; instead they most cared about a college’s mission
- Some good students are bad test takers, particularly under stress, such as when a test may grant or deny college entry; Multiple-choice tests don’t reveal much about a student
- We’ve developed much better, fairer ways to assess students who will thrive at our college.
In our admissions, we review an applicant’s whole academic and lived experience. We consider an applicant’s ability to present themselves in essays and interviews, review their recommendations from mentors, and assess factors such as their community engagement and entrepreneurism. And yes, we look closely at high school academic records, though in an unconventional manner. We look for an overarching narrative that shows motivation, discipline, and the capacity for self-reflection. We look at grade point average (GPA) as a measure of performance over a range of courses and time, distinct from a one-test-on-one-day SAT/ACT score. A student’s consistent “A” grades may be coupled with evidence of curiosity and learning across disciplines, as well as leadership in civic or social causes. Another student may have overcome obstacles through determination, demonstrating promise of success in a demanding program. Strong high school graduates demonstrate purpose, a passion for authenticity, and commitment to positive change.
We’re seeing remarkable admissions results since disregarding standardized test scores:
- Our yield, the percentage of students who accepted our invitation to enroll, rose in a single year from 18% to 26%, an amazing turnaround
- The quantity of applications went down but the quality went up, likely because we made it harder to apply, asking for more essays; Our applicants collectively were more motivated, mature, disciplined and consistent in their high school years than past applicants
- Class diversity increased to 31% students of color, the most diverse in our history, up from 21% two years ago
- The percentage of students who are the first-generation from their family to attend college rose from 12% to 18% in this year’s class.