Last week I paid a visit to Hampshire College (MA), the only college in the U.S that practices “test blind” admissions. Test blind means that standardized test scores are not considered at all during the admissions process. Applicants need not bother to submit them. No one in the admissions office will even look at them.
Hampshire was test-optional until two years ago. Test-optional means that applicants have the choice of submitting, or not submitting, standardized test scores. Those who submit them will have their scores considered as part of the their application. Those who do not submit them will not. Some test-optional schools still require scores when considering applicants for scholarships. Others do not.
Hampshire’s admissions office made this decision because it believed that test scores had no predictive value, and that students from economically disadvantaged families were hindered in the admissions process when test scores were considered. Hampshire is also a school that attracts creative students who have, more often than not, learned more outside of a classroom than within one. Having visited this school, I believe that it attracts great minds, though they have to be willing to get to work quickly.
Going to Hampshire is much like jumping from high school to graduate school, completely bypassing a more structured college experience. There are no majors at Hampshire College, nor are there grades. Students design their academic program with the help of a primary advisor, a “chair,” as well as a second advisor. The end product could be a thesis or project. It could become a business or the start of a career after college. A quarter of Hampshire College alumni–the college graduated its first senior class in 1974–are entrepreneurs; documentary producer Ken Burns is among them, a member of the college’s first senior class.
Going test blind resulted in more applications for the class that entered last year, as well as a larger freshman class. The class went from 331 that entered in 2014 to 380 a year later. It was a more diverse class as well. The percentage of students from under-represented minority groups increased from 26 to 31 percent. More important, just over a quarter of the students who were accepted decided to come.
I can understand why Hampshire is test blind. Test scores have no relevance there. They do not measure anything.
But can other colleges follow suit? It’s hard to say.
Hampshire pays a “price” for going test blind. It is not ranked by U.S. News. Not that the students who are most likely to consider Hampshire really care. They are like the elves recruited to work in Santa’s Workshop. Anything they need to make the toys is there, including teachers to help. Such people do not get worked up over rankings. However, there are college administrators, trustees and donors who do.
In order for other colleges to follow Hampshire’s example of test blind admissions, their administrations and trustees will need to consider if there is a “risk” to not being “ranked.” A college that has academic programs that are talent-based, such as a visual or performing arts conservatory, can certainly be test blind, if the education is designed to nurture talent. So could other liberal arts colleges that are as small, or smaller, than Hampshire, which has only 1,400 students, all undergraduates.
A commitment to test blind admissions means that an admissions committee will need to spend more time on each application. They need evidence of success–Hampshire asks for examples of graded work–and need to know: why us? The University of Massachusetts, in the same town, would not have the time or resources to dedicate to such an in-depth exercise, unless it was for an Honors College or an arts program.
Hampshire is yet to graduate a class that was admitted under test blind admissions. Should the college see upticks in retention and graduation rates as well as continued success among individual students, I would expect other small colleges to go test blind over the next five to ten years.
However, those schools will also need to offer a curriculum that encourages exploration as well as close contact with faculty from the start, as Hampshire does. They cannot be schools that need to worry about the accreditation of major programs. Accreditation is tied to course requirements. These schools also need to make a major commitment among faculty and staff to student success. A school that adopts a test blind admissions policy for the sake of filling a class will not be better off unless it can guide most of that class towards their degree as well as rewarding life after college. Hampshire has had over four decades to prove that it could.
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