It’s hard to explain to families just beginning to research colleges and their admissions policies how fluid the process really is. What might have been a no-exceptions policy one year can be entirely dropped the next—sometimes with little or no notice and often with no ”formal” announcement.
In fact, huge policy changes can quietly go in effect mid-admissions cycle with hardly a peep coming from staff charged with keeping applicants and the public informed. Or notification might go to only a select few who managed one way or the other to get on the college radar by earning outstanding test scores or signing up for a mailing list.
Deadlines change, admissions priorities get adjusted, interviews get added, colleges go test optional, new applications are brought on line, and requirements are added—or subtracted. This doesn’t even begin to count the thousands of new programs, majors, and opportunities added or dropped during the course of a typical school year.
In 2009, Stanford started a select alumni interview opportunity which has slowly expanded to more areas of the country. In 2012, Columbia quietly allowed the Score Choice option for applicants. Several years ago, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown stopped requiring three Subject Tests. And the list goes on.
With several thousand four-year undergraduate institutions to keep track of, these kinds of changes can go unnoticed by even the most vigilant of college counselors.
To illustrate the magnitude of policy change effected in a single year, here are five highly selective colleges that made huge admissions changes for this year:
Colgate University, NY
In mid-November—long after the November Early Decision deadline, Colgate sent an announcement to prospective undergrads indicating a major change in standardized test policies. In addition to superscoring the SAT, Colgate now promises to superscore the ACT. This means the admissions office will combine an applicant’s best subscores, even if they are from different test dates to create a new ACT “composite” score, which will then be used to evaluate the application.
Students who had already applied and/or were considering an application were encouraged to submit additional scores to Colgate either from the testing agency or directly from the school guidance office (on official letterhead). Scores for early applicants must be received no later than December 2, 2015.
Duke University, NC
For 2014-15, Duke has decided to drop the Score Choice option. In previous years, applicants could select which sets of scores to send for consideration and many used Score Choice to eliminate scores they considered unflattering or uncompetitive for Duke admissions.
Without referring to Score Choice on their website, Duke changed the language governing which test results must be sent as part of a complete application to read, “…you are welcome to send us SAT scores, ACT scores or both. You must send your full record of scores for whichever test type(s) you choose to report.” Subtle? Yes, even the College Board hasn’t been alerted to the change for purposes of updating their website.
Harvard University, MA
Last spring, Harvard very publicly announced a minor adjustment in admissions policies pertaining to Subject Test requirements. Instead of universally requiring two SAT Subject tests for all applicants, Harvard amended language to read that Subject Tests would be “normally required.” The new testing policy also underscores the importance of unusual academic achievement such as “contest results, writing or poetry, science and mathematics research, or academic portfolios of any kind.”
The goal of the policy change was to allow the admissions office to consider those applications submitted without Subject Tests from students who were not aware of the requirement or who feel other scores and accomplishments better represent them.
University of Notre Dame, IN
For the first time this year, Notre Dame joined Georgetown and Boston College by replacing a simple Early Action policy with a new Restrictive Early Action program for first-year applicants. Students applying to Notre Dame’s REA program were prohibited from submitting an application to another college’s binding Early Decision program (both ED1 and ED2) that would prevent them from choosing Notre Dame if admitted. They were welcome, however, to apply to other non-binding Early Action programs.
Notre Dame’s change in policy was marketed as providing students with the “freedom of choosing their college by May 1,” while at the same time enjoying “the convenience of gaining an early evaluation from the Committee on Admissions.”
Wesleyan University, CT
Effective the 2014-15 application cycle and the admission of the Class of 2019 (and transfers entering in Spring and Fall 2015), Wesleyan no longer requires applicants from the US and Canada to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of an application for admission. If they so choose, students are welcome to submit scores and they will be reviewed in a “holistic manner” in the context of other application materials and “indicators of ability and promise.” But applicants from secondary schools that provide “written evaluations” in place of traditional grades or students who have been home-schooled are still required to submit ACT results or the SAT and two or more SAT Subject Tests.
And for the record, Wesleyan will superscore both the SAT and the ACT, if those scores are submitted.