Students applying to attend Sewanee: The University of the South no longer will have to take college entrance exams such as the ACT or SAT before applying to attend the liberal arts school.
"I think educators have given standardized tests more power than they actually possess," said David Lesesne, dean of admission at Sewanee. "There is ample evidence suggesting that means other than standardized tests can be useful in predicting college success, and Sewanee will continue to uphold high academic standards in our admission considerations."
Mr. Lesesne said school officials "believe that making the SAT and ACT optional will create greater access to students from an array of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds."
Sewanee applicants who choose not to take a standardized test will be required to submit a piece of graded academic work and participate in a personal interview, Mr. Lesesne said.
The school's Faculty Admission Committee is developing a rigorous interview process that will be conducted by admissions officers and Sewanee alumni, he said.
Officials will review the new admissions policy after a five-year period, he said. The success of the changed standards will be measured by looking at student retention, academic performance and community involvement, he said.
This year, the University of the South received more than 2,400 applications, and admissions personnel expect to enroll about 400 freshmen in the fall.
"We encourage prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores for admission and anticipate most students still will do so," Mr. Lesesne said. "Standardized tests are a good indicator for many students, but we look forward to offering this new option that aligns well with our philosophy of intense intellectual engagement with students, both inside and outside of the classroom."
In the past few years, standardized tests have come under fire from higher education leaders who have said the tests are written to favor white, upper-middle-class high school students.
A report released in September 2008 by a commission formed by the National Association for College Admission Counseling said ACT and SAT scores are not the best measure for college success and should play a smaller role in the admissions process.
"College success is a term of sufficient breadth that it includes degree attainment, a wide range of GPAs, and the acquisition of experiences and skills that will propel a student into the work force, graduate education or responsible citizenship," the report states. "For this broad definition of success, standardized admission tests ... are insufficient predictors of students' likelihood of overall success."
Standardized tests have become more prominent in the application process in recent years. In 1993, 46 percent of colleges said admissions tests were considerably important, while in 2006, 60 percent said the tests were considerably important, according to the association's 2008 Testing Commission Report.
Fifteen higher education institutions in Tennessee allow students to be admitted without taking a standardized test, and 815 four-year colleges and universities nationwide do not require most applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, according to Fair Test, a national organization that advocates against standardizing testing requirements.
In the last few years many schools, especially private liberal arts colleges, have been moving away from standardized tests, said Kimberly Johnston, immediate past president for the National Association of Colleges Admission Counseling. However, many schools still use tests because they are an important standard measure for academic competency, she said.
"There are many high schools with different grading standards," she said. "(Standardized tests) are one piece that is the same for all students."
Ms. Johnston said she does not know of any large, state-funded university that has made testing optional. Many state universities and colleges would not have the financial resources to conduct thousands of personal interviews and review objective factors that would be needed in place of the tests, she said.
Smaller private schools often have a different mission and can afford to weigh objective factors in the admissions process, Ms. Johnston said.
Although many people believe standardized tests have become the make-or-break factor in college admissions, she said that idea is over-hyped.
"I don't think it has become as important as people make it out to be," Ms. Johnston said. "It is certainly not the be-all and end-all."