Following a highly effective three-year pilot program, William & Mary will continue its standardized test-optional undergraduate admission process indefinitely.
The test-optional approach allows prospective students to decide whether they wish to include SAT or ACT test results as part of their application. William & Mary’s holistic admission review process involves many components, including several optional elements, such as standardized test scores, teacher recommendations and interviews.
The decision was based on a review of data, consideration of evolving trends in college admission and consultation with a faculty advisory committee.
“We want to empower students with more flexibility to demonstrate their talent when applying,” said Associate Vice President for Enrollment & Dean of Admission Tim Wolfe. “Our admission process is comprehensive and multi-faceted. As we found through the pilot, we continue to enroll highly qualified students – with or without a standardized test score – capable of succeeding academically and in contributing to the William & Mary community.
“We’ve also seen – both internally and nationally – that this flexibility increases our ability to recruit talented students who may not otherwise envision themselves at the university, including those who may be the first in their family to attend college.”
While going test-optional was in consideration prior to the pandemic, the university introduced a three-year pilot in 2020 when many high school students had difficulty scheduling SAT or ACT testing. The first test-optional cohort started at the university in fall 2021. A total of 39% of that enrolling class applied without submitting standardized test scores.
The Office of Institutional Research has since been tracking the retention and academic success of the class to see if there were any concerning differences between students who submitted test results and those who did not.
They discovered that both groups succeeded academically in the first year with similar GPAs. Both groups were nearly identical in persisting toward their degree – each with around a 95% retention rate, which ranks among the best of any U.S. public university.
After reviewing the data, the Admission Policy Advisory Committee – chaired by Professor Michael R. Halleran – met in early February and supported the recommendation from Wolfe for an indefinite extension of the policy. The extension was similarly supported by Provost Peggy Agouris.
“William & Mary enrolls the brightest, most creative and most inquisitive students, who in turn advance the university’s culture and experience,” Agouris said. “Adopting test-optional admissions policy past the pilot period helps ensure that applicants are able to highlight their strongest possible contributions to William & Mary, knowing that our remarkable faculty will encourage them to reach their fullest potential. I’m delighted to support the extension.”
Many of William & Mary’s peer institutions now offer test-optional application processes. Moving forward, the university will periodically review the decision based on related data.
“Accelerated by the difficulty of exam-taking during COVID, the national trend now is very much towards test-optional,” said Halleran, professor of classical studies and former W&M provost. “It is important to emphasize the ‘optional’ element in that adjectival phrase: Students will still have the option of submitting test scores, if they wish to do so.
“The test-optional approach will make us more attractive to a wider range of students, and in reducing the advantages some students have in taking test-prep courses, make the process more equitable.”
Students who do submit standardized test results should keep in mind that the process does not mean that the university is “test-blind”; any submitted scores will be considered as part of the holistic review.
In the university’s latest entering class, which started in the fall, 34% of enrolling students applied without test scores.
“Whether or not they applied with standardized test scores, we are confident students admitted to William & Mary are prepared to succeed in the classroom and make an impact on our campus and beyond,” Wolfe concluded.
Erin Jay, Senior Associate Director of University News