by Lizzie Kane ’22

On Monday, March 30th, Davidson joined the ever-growing list of colleges and universities that are experimenting with test-optional admissions policies. According to FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 1,080 four-year colleges and universities do not require the submission of SAT or ACT scores for “substantial numbers of bachelor-degree applicants.” The list of colleges and universities included around 850 in 2015, according to a New York Times article.

Davidson’s new policy established a three-year pilot program, allowing the classes of 2025, 2026, and 2027 to take advantage of it before a final decision is made as to whether the college will permanently convert to test optional admissions.

James K. Batten Professor for Communications Studies and parent to a prospective student Issac Bailey ’95 supports the new policy “wholeheartedly,” noting, via email, that during uncertain times like now, people must “experiment with new possibilities.”

“When I got into Davidson, my SAT score was below average – compared to the average Davidson student – but my overall portfolio was as impressive as anyone else’s,” Bailey said. “And I achieved it under really difficult circumstances most Davidson students did not have to face. That SAT score did not determine what kinds of contributions I would make to Davidson as a student, and beyond.”

Bailey has a 15-year-old daughter who is considering attending Davidson. He shared that she is a top student in her class and a well-rounded candidate as a whole.

“I don’t need to know her eventual SAT score to know she’s a high-quality student,” Bailey said.

Specifics of the policy

Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Christopher Gruber mentioned in the email announcement that the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the college’s decision.

“SAT and ACT test dates have been canceled, and no one can offer assurance of when future tests will be offered. These circumstances create much more than an inconvenience,” Dean Gruber wrote. He went on to describe that these circumstances affect everyone, no matter what background a student comes from.

Chad Spencer, Senior Associate Dean of Admission and Financial Aid and Associate Director of Financial Aid, told The Davidsonian in an email that this is not the first time Davidson has tossed around the idea of forgoing test scores.

While the college has considered going test-optional before, “This is the timing that required action,” Associate Dean Spencer said. He added that Dean Gruber partnered with the campus leadership team, including President Carol Quillen, the Advisory Council, and the Board of Trustees, to come to this conclusion.

In a follow-up email exchange with The Davidsonian, Dean Gruber specified that the choice of a three-year program was “symbolic” because “all high school students currently enrolled will be impacted in a variety of ways due to [COVID-19].” He also mentioned that it will give the admissions office time to get to know the students more once they are on campus, too.

Asked how Davidson will decide about maintaining its test-optional status, Dean Gruber said that criteria will include students’ “academic interest and success in year one at Davidson, and much more.”

Associate Dean Spencer told The Davidsonian to look out for more information posted on Davidson’s website regarding the new policy.

Perspectives from the community

Sam Owusu ’21, a former member of the Students for Just Admissions campus organization—a group dedicated to abolishing legacy status as a criteria in admissions—feels that if the pilot program becomes long-term, it will be beneficial.

“Hopefully, if marketed well, the decision will attract new talents and take some of the pressure off great students who may not have the same level of access as others,” Owusu said. “I’m excited to see if Davidson will stick with its decision or not.”

Nancy Siegel, the head of guidance counseling at Millburn High School in Short Hills, New Jersey, told The Davidsonian over email that the value of testing had been questioned “well before coronavirus,” pointing to the college admissions scandals as another influence.

“It is easy to see that the playing field is often uneven and stacked in favor of students coming from more affluent areas,” Siegel said. “I believe that a school such as Davidson with its smaller size and its attention to the holistic student profile is doing exactly the right thing.”

Claire Crafts, a prospective student for the class of 2024, thinks a test-optional admissions process is more fair, but those policies did not impact her college application process

“Personally, testing is one of my strengths and was a way for me to stand out on my applications, so I submitted testing regardless of whether it was optional,” Crafts said.

Elisabeth Sachs, a parent of both current and prospective Davidson students, believes that the college made the right decision at the right time

“It’s less about ‘are the tests valuable?,’ but more about ‘we know this is an uncertain time; we are taking away one more uncertainty; we recognize this is something you don’t have control over,’” Sachs said, sharing that her daughter’s SAT test scheduled for this month in Baltimore was canceled the night before the exam. The family does not know when she will be able to take it in the future due to test site closings.

Bailey and his daughter discussed the paradox of the new policy: Would the applicant pool become more competitive with the new test-optional pilot program, or would it make it easier to get into Davidson

“The goal isn’t to attract students with high SAT scores to Davidson. The SAT is simply a tool to help us identify the best students for Davidson’s culture,” Bailey began. “The goal always has been and always will be to get high-quality students to Davidson. I believe that can be achieved with or without the SAT. I believe our admissions folks know how to make that happen—and will.”