Worcester Polytechnic Institute Moves from Test Optional to Test Blind Admissions Policy; Taking Another Major Step in Its Mission to Expand Student Access
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) announced today that it will no longer consider SAT or ACT scores in its admission process. The change to fully “test-blind” admissions will begin with the Fall 2021 application cycle and supports WPI’s mission of expanding access to a high-quality STEM education to all students. The new policy was endorsed by the university’s faculty and will be enacted as an eight-year pilot.
“I’m proud that WPI is one of the very first STEM universities to fully eliminate the test score barrier,” said President Laurie Leshin. “WPI’s immersive project-based approach to STEM education engages students in solving real problems around the world, and our most successful students are those with drive, curiosity, and passion—factors that no standardized test can measure. We know that a WPI education can change a person’s lifelong career trajectory, and is a highly effective engine of social mobility. This is particularly true for women, underrepresented students of color, economically disadvantaged students, and other diverse populations, who are often among those students whose test scores may discourage them from seeing themselves on our campus. By eliminating this barrier, we hope to accelerate bringing to WPI learners with the varied perspectives and experiences that are vital to helping to develop contextualized, human-centered, and sustainable solutions. I applaud the WPI faculty for embracing this bold step designed to bring the WPI opportunity to talented students everywhere.”
The test-blind pilot program builds upon WPI’s 2007 adoption of a test-optional policy, one of many efforts to eliminate inequities in its admissions process. “Test optional” means students can choose whether to submit their SAT scores with their applications. “Test blind” means the university does not accept scores in the application process. Test scores can be a self-limiting factor for some students, discouraging otherwise strong and capable students from applying to top universities with high score profiles. Scores can also be gamed through expensive test preparation courses and tutoring that provide an unfair advantage to wealthier students. The new pilot program makes SAT and ACT scores irrelevant, eliminating these inequities and barriers to access.
“Standardized test scores are not necessary to make admissions decisions,” said Andrew Palumbo, Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid. “They have been found to have problematic correlations with family income, gender, race and ethnicity, and parental education level. Eliminating scores as an admissions requirement has allowed us to establish a more equitable, holistic review process and attract students who have historically been underserved in STEM fields, which has made WPI a more diverse and inclusive university.”
Since 2007, among WPI’s undergraduate population, the number of women enrolled increased from 771 to 1,948 and the number of underrepresented students of color rose from 226 to 646. As a result, the percentage of women increased from 26% to 40%, and underrepresented students of color increased from 8% to 13%.
In that time, the university has seen an increase in the academic quality of applicants; the average high school GPA has risen both for students who submit scores and for those who do not. In fall 2008, the university’s first test-optional year, students who submitted SAT scores had an average GPA of 3.73; those who did not submit scores had an average GPA of 3.66. In fall 2020, those who submitted SAT scores had an average GPA of 3.86; those who did not submit scores had an average GPA of 3.79.
Palumbo points out that access and student success are at the core of WPI’s admissions process. “Our curriculum is extremely challenging, but we know how to support students and provide the tools they need to rise to that challenge. But it’s harder to broaden access to students we know will be successful when otherwise strong students look at their SAT or ACT test scores that are below profile for WPI and don’t even apply. By piloting a test-blind policy, we hope to make it clear to students that we are interested in so much more than that single score, a data point that we—and they—don’t actually need at all to determine their future collegiate success.”
The pilot program is intentionally long—eight years—to allow for fuller review of success metrics, including the six-year graduation rate of the test-blind classes. WPI has a 95% retention rate and 89% of students graduate within six years, which is a national benchmark. The university’s annual outcomes and salary report, which surveys each class six months after graduation, shows that more than 90% of the Class of 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available) was employed and the average starting salary of the class was over $72,000.
There is growing support across the country for test-blind policies, which follows a years-long trend in universities, both public and private, large and small, adopting test-optional policies. Currently, more than 1,000 universities no longer require scores, and approximately 70 have adopted test-blind policies in the past year, signaling that they will not consider the SAT or ACT in their admissions decisions.
The move toward a test-blind admissions policy continues WPI’s efforts to address and reduce barriers to admission for all students. WPI has been engaged in a multi-year effort to carefully evolve its selection processes and practices, launching initiatives that include the implementation of evidence-based practices that reduce cognitive bias in select admissions, regular trainings to help admissions counselors identify and address bias in the decision-making process, and the removal of SAT and ACT scores from all financial aid consideration (including merit-based and need-based scholarships). The university also eliminated its undergraduate application fee in 2020. In recent years WPI has introduced the Great Minds Scholars program to support low-income students in Worcester Public Schools and received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Scholar Program, which supports historically underrepresented students, and an S-STEM grant, which provides scholarships for 20 students from Worcester public schools.