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Worcester Polytechnic Institute Is First Nationally-Ranked Science and Engineering University to Make SAT Optional for Admissions

New Policy Aims to Attract Broader Range of Students to Math, Science, and Technology

May 8, 2007

WPI announced today that it will be the first nationally-ranked science and engineering university to make the SAT an optional requirement for admissions. The new policy will take effect for students entering in fall 2008. The move, unprecedented within the science and technology education arena, is consistent with national efforts to attract a broader range of students, particularly women and minorities, to science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines.

WORCESTER, Mass. – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) announced today that it will be the first nationally-ranked science and engineering university to make the SAT an optional requirement for admissions.

WPI’s new SAT optional policy, which will take effect for students applying for admission in fall 2008, has been adopted by many liberal arts colleges and research universities over the past 20 years. While the move is unprecedented within the science and technology education arena, implementation of the new policy is consistent with national efforts to attract a broader range of students to science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines – particularly women and minorities.

--Read coverage of WPI's announcement in the May 8, 2007, edition of USA Today.-- (PDF 8.9 MB)

"At a time when the United States faces mounting competition from other nations in the fields of science, engineering, and technology, it is imperative that we identify and support talent from all quarters," said Dennis D. Berkey, president of WPI. "By instituting an SAT-optional admissions policy, WPI is taking bold action to attract a broader range of young people, including those from underrepresented communities, who we believe can succeed at the university and contribute their talents to solving problems around the world."

A faculty subcommittee began researching other SAT-optional colleges and universities in 2005 and found that the quality of applicants actually increased when the SAT requirement was dropped. The committee found, for instance, that Bates College, which became the first school to eliminate SAT requirement in 1984, saw a 33 percent increase in applications over the following five years.

Furthermore, a 20-year review by Bates showed that applications had doubled since the college dropped the requirement, and that the graduation rate for those who did not submit SATs is nearly identical to the rate for those who did. Additional research showed that other highly selective colleges and universities with SAT-optional policies reported similar results, and confirm a significant increase in applications from high-achieving women and minorities.

WPI’s Admissions Office uses a holistic approach to the selection process, which weighs academic achievement (reflected by grade performance in rigorous classes) more heavily than academic aptitude (reflected by standardized test scores). A recent validity study undertaken by the College Board found that when taken individually, the least predictive element of the student’s success at WPI was the SAT score, while the most predictive was the student’s high school GPA.

"The SAT may capture academic aptitude, but aptitude itself doesn’t necessarily reflect success in this type of setting," says Kristin Tichenor, associate vice president for enrollment management at WPI. She cited internal studies showing that WPI’s highest achievers don’t necessarily have high SAT scores. "The students who are most successful at WPI are those with high motivation levels, willingness to take initiative and creativity in solving problems.

"Implementation of this policy means that prospective students will have the option of either submitting SAT scores or submitting research papers, science projects or other indicators of academic achievement," Tichenor adds. "Ultimately this policy will empower WPI applicants with the freedom to choose the option that will best demonstrate their academic ability and aptitude. This is particularly important to our efforts to attract greater numbers of female and minority applicants who may not have thought to apply to an institution like WPI."

Currently, 25 percent of WPI’s student body is female, and like other science and engineering programs, the school has initiated several programs targeted to middle and high school girls to increase that number. As recently as 2000, women comprised only 18 percent of the first-year class, the percentage has increased steadily due to a number of "pipeline programs," such as Camp Reach, WUNDER, and Frontiers.

WPI will conduct a five-year pilot study to examine the academic performance of students who do not submit SAT scores, versus those who do.