Niagara University no longer will require SAT or ACT scores for admission, joining a growing list of colleges and universities that make the standardized college admissions exams optional for prospective students.
Niagara now becomes the largest college or university in Western New York to go entrance-test optional.
The Rev. James J. Maher, the university's president, said high school grades and coursework were better predictors of college student success, and Niagara will rely more heavily on those when making decisions about whom to admit. A college essay and interview also will be considered.
"What it basically says is that we think there's real value in the rigor of the curriculum of the high schools sending us students," Maher said. "What's tried and true is the four-year curriculum where you see how a student develops over four years."
The SAT or ACT will be optional for students seeking admission in fall 2018.
High school students who take the SAT or ACT may still use the test results to help bolster their admissions portfolio, Maher said.
Katie Rose Gould, a senior theater performance major at Niagara, said she envied incoming students.
"The SATs and ACTs were such a stressful part of the high school experience. I'm not someone who tests well and I didn't want my entire career to rest on one test," Gould said, echoing the response of other students.
Nationwide, the move away from the exams has become more common over the past 15 years, though many of the most selective colleges in the country have kept the requirement.
In Western New York, Daemen, Hilbert, Villa Maria and Houghton colleges are also test-optional, except for some specific programs at Houghton, according to prepscholar.com, which tracks admission requirements. Other liberal arts schools in New York State forgoing test scores are Bard, Skidmore, Sarah Lawrence and Siena colleges.
The current prepscholar.com list includes more than 850 postsecondary institutions.
Skeptics say some colleges and universities have gone test-optional largely to help boost their rankings in the annual U.S. News & World Report surveys that are influential with students and parents. One of the factors U.S. News considers in its rankings is average SAT score. The thinking is that students with high SAT scores will continue to submit their scores, while students with low scores won't – thus bolstering the average for test-optional colleges and universities.
U.S. News & World Report classifies Niagara as a selective university, noting its acceptance rate of 48 percent.
Niagara, a liberal arts university, has an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 3,300, with 850 students enrolled in the graduate division.
Maher said Niagara's move reflects an evolution in higher education.
"We've had as a society kind of an overreliance on testing at times," Maher said. "I think it's really trying to reset that balance of, 'Let's put testing in the right context.' "
Senior Chris Swagler agreed with Maher. Standardized exams essentially measure how well a person tests, not how much they know, he said.
Dan Potoczak, a Niagara graduate, chimed in to raise a concern: How would the change affect financial aid? Standardized test scores are a prerequisite for undergraduate scholarships at the university. With tuition costs at almost $45,000, he suspects students will still submit their scores in order to qualify for aid.
"We'll see how it works out," Swagler said.