Jul 12, 2017

James Madison University goes ‘test-optional’ for 2017-2018

James Madison University
Joining a growing number of colleges and universities, James Madison University (JMU) will be rolling out a test-optional admissions policy for 2017-18. Students seeking admission will no longer be required to submit tests results from either the SAT or the ACT as part of the JMU application process.

Unlike other Commonwealth universities, which have also decided to downgrade reliance on standardized tests in admissions, JMU will not be adding any “strings” to their new policy. There will be no minimum GPAs, similar to test-optional policies in use by Christopher Newport University, George Mason University or Virginia Commonwealth University.  Applicants will be entirely free to decide whether they want to include test scores along with their applications.

“We’re providing applicants to Madison the opportunity to build their best application which could include test results, recommendation, or personal statement,” explained Joe Manning, JMU’s Associate Dean of Admission. “We’ve determined that our students’ high school curriculum is a more consistent indicator of their academic success.”

As the university works to update their website to reflect the change in policy, information on the application process for the coming year has been communicated during on-campus information sessions, including one for counselors last month.  In a nutshell, JMU will only require that applicants submit an application for admission (one choice will be the Coalition Application), a high school transcript, and a senior schedule of classes. An applicant can also submit, if they choose, a personal statement, a letter of recommendation and/or standardized test results to be used in the review of their application. Because this is a substantial change from how things were done in the past, JMU is developing a method for applicants to request the university delete test results that may already be on file in the admissions office.

The new policy didn’t come as a huge surprise to counselors who have worked with Madison over the years. It’s been evident by their decisions that application readers placed significant importance on information conveyed via the transcript—grades and consistent rigor of coursework throughout high school. Test results, while considered, appeared to be of secondary importance in Madison’s admissions decisions.

And JMU is joining an impressive group of colleges and universities that have made the decision to reduce the role of scores in admissions.  According to the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), the list of test-optional schools has grown to more than 950 accredited institutions awarding bachelor’s degrees, with more than 275 highly “ranked” in their “tiers” by U.S. News, including such familiar names as Bowdoin, Mount Holyoke, Pitzer, Smith, Trinity College, Wesleyan, Wake Forest, Providence and College of the Holy Cross.

In addition to James Madison, the most recent schools to announce test-optional policies are Emerson College in Boston, University of the Ozarks and Wofford College in South Carolina.  In the DC/Maryland/Virginia region, American, Catholic, Christopher Newport, GMU, George Washington, Goucher, Hampton, Hood, Loyola Maryland, Marymount, Old Dominion, Radford, Roanoke, Salisbury, St. John’s College, Trinity Washington University, Mary Washington, VCU and Washington College have either test-flexible or test-optional policies in place.

There appear to be a number of reasons for the recent “surge” in test-optional colleges. According to Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, “Admissions offices increasingly recognize that they do not need ACT or SAT scores to make good decisions. They know that an applicant’s high school record—grades and course rigor—predicts undergraduate success better than any standardized exam.”

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