The admissions office has changed its admission requirements and will no longer require or evaluate SAT or ACT essays. Several key factors played into this decision, including an internal study that found low correlation between SAT/ACT essay scores and college performance, a desire to be more accommodating to low-income students, and changes to the SAT itself.
The changes to the SAT include paying separately for the essay part of the tests. The changes will take effect in 2016.
“We used this as an opportunity to assess the value of all of the standardized testing we have recently required,” J.T. Duck, director of admissions, said.
The college’s Institutional Research Office analyzed the standardized test essay scores of students at the college and their college performance and shared the data with the admissions office.
“The correlations between essay scores and academic performance at Swarthmore were modest,” Duck said. “Given what we learned from our assessment of the scores … we knew we could make strong admissions decisions without the essay scores.”
Despite no longer considering the SAT/ACT essay quality continues to be an important factor in the admissions process, and Duck said he was confident that the office will be able to gauge an applicant’s writing capability through the “Why Swarthmore” prompt.
The admissions office hopes that removing this requirement will help low-income students since the essay now comes at an additional cost for both standardized tests.
“A shorter and less expensive test benefits all, particularly low-income students who may or may not have access to test fee-waivers.” said Jim Bock, Vice President and Dean of Admissions.
However, students say paying for standardized tests is in no way the only admissions obstacle for low income students.
“The biggest hurdle for me in the admissions process was general ignorance surrounding the college application process itself,” Catherine Velez-Perry ’17, co-president of SOLIS, said. “Places like Swarthmore are not generally known in my hometown; ‘making it’ means getting into an Ivy League school.”
Velez-Perry also voiced another concern common amongst low-income students at Swarthmore.
“I was not prepared for the rigor of Swarthmore,” Velez-Perry explained. “If Swarthmore wants to be a place that attracts low-income students, I think low-income students should have a working understanding of Swat, first.”
One program utilized by the college to help educate low-income students about the college is QuestBridge.
“QuestBridge is an organization that helps match high-achieving low-income students with Swarthmore and peer institutions,” Duck said.
Low-income students can fill out an application with QuestBridge and make a list of college preferences. QuestBridge then forwards the applications to schools the students indicated in their application. The student is then “matched” with a college and receives a full four-year scholarship.
The college also hosted the Summer Scholars program for the first time this past summer. Sixteen students from low-income situations who are interested in studying STEM are invited to come to the college over the summer to help prepare them for the academic rigor of the college.
Velez-Perry is also supportive of the Summer Scholars program.
“[The program] might be a huge draw for people, because it really shows that they will be supported once they get here, and that’s something a lot of people lose sight of in this whole process,” Velez-Perry said. “In my opinion, in order to make the process easier and less intimidating for students, there needs to be a concentrated effort to understand the communities the students come from, and what that means in terms of testing, of accessibility to resources, of how much experience they have with higher education, and what it entails.”
Finally, the college is hosting its annual Discover Swarthmore program, an all expenses paid visit to the college to help students get a feel of the college. Any student can apply, but students from low-income or underrepresented backgrounds are given preference for the program. This year the college will be hosting two Discover Swarthmore programs for the first time, on September 17-19 and October 29-31.
“Students invited to the program … may not have had a chance to visit a residential liberal arts college like Swarthmore. We offer the opportunity to stay with a current student in a residence hall, to eat meals in the dining hall, to meet current students, to attend classes and to meet our faculty,” said Bock. “This is a wonderful opportunity to ‘try on’ and experience college for a few days. Our visitors will also have the opportunity to hear from folks in financial aid about how affordable a Swarthmore education can be for many students.”
Admissions hopes that these efforts will increase the accessibility of the college for a more economically diverse range of students.