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College of the Atlantic’s Test-Optional Admissions Policy Validated by National Study

College of the Atlantic students search for amphibians at night with biologist Stephen Ressel, PhD. Photo by Sune Anderson.
College of the Atlantic students search for amphibians at night with biologist Stephen Ressel, PhD. Photo by Sune Anderson.
Posted March 05, 2014, at 5:39 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, ME—Thomas J. Watson Fellows, Goldwater scholars, and graduate students at such prestigious institutions as the Fletcher School at Tufts, and Oxford, Duke, and Stanford universities, are all recent College of the Atlantic graduates who share more than an education. All were admitted to COA without submitting either SAT or ACT scores.

A recent study of more than 100,000 students at 33 colleges, including COA, finds that these COA students are not unusual in their success. According to an interview with William Hiss, who conducted the study, “Human intelligence is so multifaceted, so complex, so varied, that no standardized testing system can be expected to capture it.” The study, “Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions,” found no statistical difference in either college GPA or graduation rates of those who submitted scores from those who did not.

COA is likely unusual among the colleges in the study in that it has never required standardized test scores from applicants. “At COA we value the learner in his or her entirety; we look for and nourish creativity, leadership, service, and thoughtful consideration of complex problems,” says COA president and alumnus Dr. Darron Collins. “As a college we’ve always felt such exams were imperfect metrics of success; this study brings that perspective into full focus.”

While the admissions process at COA considers grades and other academic markers, it also recognizes the importance of interviews, essays, leadership, and creativity. The college applies these standards to both its national and its large percentage of international students.

“For many of our extraordinary international students, English is a second or third language,” says Heather Albert-Knopp, Dean of Admission at COA and an alumna. “We would be a more limited institution if these students were discouraged from applying because they had to take standardized tests. Equally important, we feel that our test-optional policy encourages first generation college applicants and others who might have limited access to test preparation support.”

As Hiss, the former admissions dean at Bates College, has noted, these standardized tests tend to measure a student’s ability in speedy processing of information, which is not the same as overall intelligence.

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is to enabling students to actively shape its future. COA’s distinctive interdisciplinary approach to undergraduate education—human ecology—is especially well suited to developing leaders in all sectors of society to address the compelling and growing human needs of our world. For more information about COA, visit www.coa.edu.

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