Cornell College making test scores optional for admission

Cornell College has started a three-year pilot program that makes submitting standardized test scores optional for admission, a move that administrators say will broaden the reach of the college and attract more students.

The new option will allow for greater flexibility and creativity on the part of students, and is designed to appeal to motivated students who might not have otherwise considered Cornell College, said Cornell President Jonathan Brand.

“We want strong students from a broad range of backgrounds—regardless of their standardized scores—to know that we’re interested in them and that they may be a good fit here,” he said.

Students applying for admission for the 2016-2017 academic year will have three options: completing the Common Application, which allows students to choose from among 400 colleges; a Cornell College-specific application that requires an essay and standardized test scores; and an alternative Cornell-specific application that asks students to submit a portfolio of work and complete two short-answer essay questions.

In lieu of test scores, students can represent themselves through video, photo journal, writing, art/music, or other creative content—or they may create a profile page using ZeeMee, a free service used by students to showcase themselves for college admissions and scholarship opportunities. The ZeeMee option is also available to applicants sending in their test scores.

More than 150 top-tier liberal arts colleges are now test optional or test flexible. Within the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, to which Cornell belongs, Beloit College has recently joined the test-optional group, and Knox College and Lawrence University have been test-optional or test-flexible for about 10 years.

Analysis conducted by Cornell College statistics Professor Ann Cannon concluded, “The bottom line is that while both SAT and ACT are of some use as predictors of success at Cornell, there is a lot of variability among students and these test scores are only a small piece of the puzzle.” Instead, she said, that determining a student’s fit with Cornell and their overall work ethic would be as good or better at predicting success.  A separate analysis conducted by psychology Professor Melinda Green concluded, “Consistent with past research on predictors of collegiate success, the multiple regression analyses conducted on Cornell data indicate high school GPA is the strongest predictor of grade point average at Cornell College.”

National studies have also pointed to the need for more flexibility for students when applying to college. A study conducted by the University of California at Berkeley found that high school grade point average was the best predictor of student success.

“Our admission process has always been holistic,” President Brand said. “This pilot allows us to make the process even more flexible, and consider a student’s portfolio, high school grade point average, and the strength of his or her core curriculum. It also lets us look at an applicant’s motivation and fit at our residential liberal arts college distinguished by our One Course At A Time curriculum.”