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Mount St. Mary’s University Adopts Test-Optional Policy for First-Year Applicants

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Mount St. Mary’s University has adopted test-optional admissions for freshman applicants, beginning for students entering in Fall 2020. This policy allows students to choose whether to include SAT and ACT scores in their application, especially for those who may feel that their scores don’t fully reflect their academic abilities.

The university looked at studies, both nationally and internally, that show test scores are not an accurate representation of a student’s academic potential or success. In recognition of the student-centric and collaborative academic experience that is central to the Mount, the university will take a holistic approach to reviewing applications and awarding merit scholarships, with no penalty for absence of test scores. 

“This decision aligns admissions practice with the university’s mission and history as a Catholic liberal arts institution, as well as removes barriers to access and promotes equity,” said Jack Chielli, vice president for enrollment management, marketing and communications. “We believe that standardized test scores do not accurately represent many students, especially those who lack the time or resources to enroll in prep classes or take assessments multiple times.”

The call for test-optional admissions first sounded in the spring of 2018 when The Visionaries of Inclusive Cultural Experiences (The V.O.I.C.E.,) a student organization, recommended such a policy to improve access to a Mount education and promote equity.

saunders.jpgLyndsey Saunders, C’20, a V.O.I.C.E. leader since the group’s inception in 2018, hasn't stopped smiling since she heard about the policy change. “The test itself is not reflective of you as a person,” Saunders said. “The system often fails when you don’t have accessibility to the time, money or other resources to prepare for the test. Why should people have to pay thousands of dollars in prep programs to get into college?”

Saunders, a sociology major who took the SAT once in October of her senior year of high school, views the decision as being reflective of her Mount experience. “The Mount graduates ethical leaders who apply what they learned in the classroom through their activities and throughout life,” said Saunders, who noted the availability of programs to help students if they struggle in the transition to college.

In Saunders’ case, she became a P.E.A.C.E. Leader, which spurred her academic interest in educational inequalities, particularly redlining in Baltimore. She currently is conducting several research projects and plans to continue her studies in graduate school.

In response to The V.O.I.C.E.’s recommendation, university admissions staff began gathering data on the relevancy of assessment tests in admissions decisions. Using this data and her own research, Honors Program Director Sarah K. Scott, Ph.D., made the data-based decision to eliminate the SAT or ACT requirement from MSMU’s application for admission to the Honors Program.

“I’ve held the belief for some time that SAT and ACT scores carry a bias. In my first year as Honors Director, I decided to study whether a correlation between Honors students’ undergraduate GPAs and SAT scores existed at the Mount.   There was no correlation with the SAT. It is not a reliable indicator of academic flourishing,” Scott said. “The Honors Program is dedicated to promoting equity and success, as is MSMU, so it made no sense to continue with a test score requirement. I am thrilled our university has chosen to follow suit.”

All freshman applicants (except for homeschool and international applicants) are eligible for admission and scholarships without submitting their scores, but may do so if they believe their scores add to their overall academic story. Full details about the policy are on the Mount’s website at