Bad ACT/SAT Scores? Never mind, Hampshire College doesn't want to see them

Posted: September 22, 2015

Good news for the test-anxious and for anyone who wants to make college admissions a little more friendly: Hampshire College went test-blind last year, and admitted its best freshman class ever!
Hampshire College is a small liberal arts college located in Amherst, MA., one the "5 Colleges Consortium" in western Massachusetts, along with Smith College, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College and UMass. Hampshire was one of the pioneers of test-optional admissions policies. 
Hampshire is unique is that their students do not receive traditional letter grades. Instead students receive detailed narrative assessments from their professors (like students at Reed College, St, John's College and Evergreen State College). Instead of choosing a traditional major, Hampshire students design their own rigorous, personalized course of study, culminating in a year-long senior project. In light of this commitment to "authentic assessment," it's not so surprising that Hampshire has been test-optional since the college was founded.  Since 1970, their Admissions officers will look at standardized test scores if students choose to submit them, but do not require such scores. 

In 2014-2015 application year, Hampshire changed to a "test-blind" policy. In other words, they will not look at standardized test scores, even if you submit them, even if you have a perfect score! "Tests aren't part of Hampshire's pedagogy, so why would we use a test to determine which students would thrive here?" asks Meredith Twombly, dean of admissions and financial aid, as quoted on Hampshire's website. "The SAT is essentially one test on one day in a given year. Students' high school academic records,  their history 
A small mural at the Lebrón-Wiggins-Pran Cultural Center, Hampshire College (from the Hampshire College website)
A small mural at the Lebrón-Wiggins-Pran Cultural Center, Hampshire College (from the Hampshire College website)
 of civic engagement, their letters of recommendation from mentors, and their ability to represent themselves through their essays trump anything the SAT could tell us." 

Hampshire took a big risk in deciding to go test-blind.  U.S. News and World Report, publisher of the most influential college rankings, refused to include Hampshire in its rankings, because they use standardized test scores as part of their methodology. As I've mentioned in my parent presentations, the college rankings are big business to colleges; moving up in the rankings means an increase in applications in the following year as well as an increase in alumni donations. Sarah Lawrence College was test-blind for many years, but returned to being test-optional in 2012 so they could continue to be ranked. After dropping out of the rankings, Hampshire could well have seen a drastic reduction in both for the 2014-2015 school year.

But they didn't. Inside Higher Ed reports that although they did see a dramatic drop in the number of applications, they admitted the most diverse class in the school's history, including:
  • A  freshman class that enrolled has 380 students, up from 331 a year ago.
  • Gains of nearly 50 percent  in the yield rate (the percentage of accepted applicants who enroll), from 18 to 26 percent.
  • An increase is the percentage of minority students from 26 to 31 percent. (That figure covers all American, nonwhite students, a majority of whom are black or Latino.)
  • An increase in the number of first-generation or "first gen" students (those whose parents never attended college) from 12 to 18 percent.
This is a huge win for students who feel they are poor test-takers, because the various parts of the Hampshire application--transcript, recommendations, Common Application, "Why Hampshire?" supplemental essay, two additional essays and a graded high school paper--give the text anxious more time to engage thoughtfully with the application to put their best self forward. Hopefully, other schools will brave being trounced out of the USN&WR rankings to admit a better student body and follow Hampshire's lead. 

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