Macalester announces permanent shift to test-optional admissions

Hannah Catlin and Morgan Doherty

Macalester announced Monday afternoon that it is implementing a test-optional admissions policy, a change that college says “aligns closely with Macalester’s values.” 

Beginning with the Fall 2021 admissions cycle, the college will no longer require students to provide SAT or ACT scores as a part of the application process. In addition, the college is eliminating its $40 application fee to “further reduce barriers for prospective students and their families.”

“Admissions’ experience and research have consistently shown that the most important factor for predicting student success at Macalester is academic performance in high school,” Director of Admissions Jeff Allen wrote an email to the campus community. “We are confident that we can make sound admissions decisions by continuing to use our holistic and rigorous approach… without the use of test scores.”

The decision is a long time in the making.

In March of 2017, MCSG unanimously passed a resolution asking the college to implement a test-optional policy. They argued that standardized tests are biased against low-income and minority communities and that they are poor indicators of long-term college success.

In response to the passage of the resolution, Macalester President Brian Rosenberg asked the admissions office to make a recommendation to him about how to move forward. 

Allen, who has led the office since 2016, took his time in coming to a decision — writing in his email that his office ultimately made its call after “several years” of research and discussion with senior college officials.

“We strive to increase access for students of color, first-generation college students, and students who come from lower-income households,” Allen wrote. “In making this change, the College is reaffirming its commitment to these values by recognizing that standardized testing may disproportionately affect some of the very students we know help make Mac the special place that it is.”

In an April 17 interview on Groveland Rosenberg said he hoped that colleges’ and universities’ responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic would “kill the whole standardized testing world.”

He said he feels it would be a step on the way to establishing a more inclusive system of higher education.

“I would love to see Macalester in 10 years as a kind of model of a place where… the student body to the extent possible is a reflection of the world we live in and not some, um, some more homogeneous subset of that world.”

Allen, in his statement, acknowledged that this decision takes on added importance given “the uncertainty and added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the cancellation of SAT and ACT testing this spring and summer.”

Macalester is far from alone in adopting a test-optional admissions policy this spring. In fact, in Minnesota alone, Hamline University, St. Olaf College and the University of St. Thomas have all adopted permanent test-optional policies as well. 

The Admissions Office is also taking a number of steps to respond directly to the pandemic. Over the past several weeks, the office has moved to an online-only recruitment model as all in-person visits to the campus have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

Macalester is offering to set admitted students up for one-on-one conversations with current students and admissions counselors and is holding larger virtual admissions events as well. 

Correction: In a previous version of this story, The Mac Weekly wrote that Allen’s announcement came in part as a response to COVID-19. In fact, the decision to switch to test-optional was independent of the pandemic.

Kori Suzuki contributed to the reporting of this story.

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