Q&A Regarding MHC's Decision to Make SAT Scores Optional

June 2000

What is the change in Mount Holyoke's admission requirements?

Starting with the class entering in the fall of 2001 and continuing for a trial period of five years, we will make it optional for applicants to submit Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores ;as well as scores from other standardized tests such as the ACT for admission to the College.

Why has Mount Holyoke made submission of SAT scores optional?

We believe that the SAT-optional policy will more closely align our application process with the College's mission. The admission process is a window into the culture and values of this institution. We take an individualized, holistic approach to education and to the admission process. Because the SAT does not measure the range of intellectual and motivational qualities that our educational environment requires, we wish to de-emphasize its role in our admission decisions. While the SAT and other standardized tests have taken on exaggerated importance in public perceptions about the college admission process, SAT scores presently, in fact, carry only about 10% of the weight in admission decisions at Mount Holyoke.

Mount Holyoke’s application process is thorough and individualized and includes, among many components, a comprehensive review of a student's high school record within the context of extensive data on the quality of that school. The College's writing requirements for admission are also rigorous and include several essays and the submission of a graded paper. Interviews are strongly encouraged. We also look for less tangible qualities such as intellectual curiosity, thoughtfulness, leadership, creativity, civic engagement, and social conscience. None of these qualities are measured by the SAT.

Numerous issues of equity and access have also been raised with regard to these standardized tests. Increasingly, for example, many students are turning to expensive tutoring and test prep courses to help them improve their scores. The College encourages high school students to focus instead on long-term intellectual and personal growth rather than on time-consuming and expensive strategies to raise their SAT scores.

What will happen during the trial period?

During this trial period, the Mellon Foundation will fund a study of how this change affects our applicant pool and our matriculants' success. We will study the role of the SAT in our admission decision process and determine if we can more closely align our admissions practice with our educational mission and goals. The study will also inform the ongoing national debate about the role of standardized tests in college admissions.

We will take a three-pronged approach to our research. First, we will compare application, admission and matriculation rates along with academic performance and persistence of students who do and do not submit SAT scores. Second, we will compare the aggregate characteristics of the classes of 2003 and 2005 using multiple indicators of student success, such as engagement in independent research, leadership positions held, extracurricular involvement, and graduate school admission. This study will be integrated with a current effort, also supported by Mellon, to build a climate of achievement for all students. Third, we will examine the attitudes of high school students and guidance counselors toward the SAT in order to learn about the impact of the test on the educational and career aspirations of the nation’s increasingly diverse college-bound population.

Why would a student decide not to submit her scores?

Some students might feel that their transcripts and other aspects of their academic and personal achievement better illustrate their academic abilities and potential for success in college.

Are students at a disadvantage if they decide not to submit SAT scores?

No. Each applicant is evaluated on what she submits.

Does this mean that it will be easier to gain admission to Mount Holyoke?

Not at all. Mount Holyoke is a highly selective institution committed to academic excellence. It is consistently named among the top liberal arts colleges in the nation; this year the College has the largest number of applicants in its history.