Education

Middlebury plans to try out test-optional admissions policy 

Middlebury College plans to shift to a test-optional admissions policy for the next three years and then decide whether to make the change permanent. Photo by Benjy Renton/Middlebury Campus

Caroline Kapp is a news reporter for the Middlebury Campus, where a version of this story was first published.

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College plans to introduce a three-year trial period of test-optional admissions beginning with its fall 2020 admissions cycle. 

The policy was recently announced as a response in part to stresses from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the test-optional policy, students may choose to submit no test scores as part of their application for admission. Previously, students were required to provide standardized test scores from either the SAT, the ACT or three SAT subject tests.

Dean of Admissions Nicole Curvin sees this change as a way to offer flexibility to high school students who are facing high levels of uncertainty in their high school careers and future college application processes.

Due to Covid-19, many high school students are grappling with the difficulties of navigating remote learning and unpredictability surrounding standardized test availability, format and timing. The decision was made in consultation with President Laurie Patton and the Admissions Advisory Committee.

In the college’s official announcement, Curvin said that the college has been considering a transition to a test-optional policy for a year. The admissions office has reviewed data and research from test-optional colleges over the past year and has worked to envision what such policy would look like at Middlebury.

“We will continue to take a holistic approach to reviewing applications, which means we look at everything that is submitted to us including information on personal context, letters of recommendation, the essay and most importantly the academic transcript,” Curvin wrote in an email to the Middlebury Campus.

The admissions office is still working to determine how it will assess students who choose not to submit test scores, but Curvin predicts the evaluation of these students would place a larger emphasis on academic profile and school context.

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Middlebury chose to implement a three-year trial period for several reasons. First, the effects of Covid-19 on the standardized test process are likely to be felt by students beyond those applying for the class of 2024. Additionally, there are concerns about access to testing for underrepresented and international students, according to Curvin. And finally, the three-year period will allow the admissions office to evaluate the implications of this policy across several pools of applicants.

“I would say that we were excited about moving to a test-optional policy already and want to be able to think creatively about the potential to expand and develop our applicant pool,” Curvin wrote.

Curvin also sees this new policy as a way for the college to adjust to shifting demographics. She predicts that the number of high school graduates from New England and the Mid-Atlantic region will decrease and thus, “it will be important to identify new pipelines of students and to share Middlebury’s story as widely as possible.”

Nicole Curvin, Middlebury College dean of admissions. Courtesy photo

“By removing barriers in the admissions process, we increase the likelihood that our application and enrollment numbers will remain steady,” said Curvin. “We will think deeply about misperceptions or drawbacks that may come with regards to the test-optional process.”

The admissions office has not yet decided what criteria will be used to determine whether it continues the policy beyond the three-year trial period. Curvin will work with the Admissions Advisory Committee along with other members of the Middlebury community to establish what factors will indicate the success of the program.

Within the New England Small College Athletic Conference, of which Middlebury is a member, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby and Wesleyan were all test optional prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Williams has become test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle and Tufts is implementing a similar three-year test-optional trial period.

Among area colleges, the University of Vermont and Dartmouth require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, while St. Michael’s College is test optional.

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Caroline Kapp

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