Whitman Admissions Adopts Test Optional Application Process

Kate Grumbles

The Whitman Office of Admissions announced on September 20 that standardized tests would no longer be mandatory for applicants to Whitman College.

This change comes on the heels of a nearly unanimous vote by faculty on September 7 to erase the wording in the Faculty Code that required standardized tests for admission. The vote was prompted when a committee from the admissions office led by Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Tony Cabasco and the Admission and Financial Aid Faculty Committee presented research explaining the benefits of test-optional admission.

The actual vote did not change the Whitman admission policy automatically, but it did remove a section from the Faculty Code requiring standardized tests, such as ACT and SAT, in a Whitman application. The Admissions Department was then free to pursue changing the admission policy to test optional for the upcoming year. 

Tony Cabasco, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, spoke about the positive changes the new test optional application process will bring.

“Our staff can contextualize test scores and take them into proper account in context of the other application credentials.  Our process is more forgiving of students who have excelled in rigorous courses, wrote reasonably well, were engaged in their school and community and may have more modest scores than of students for whom the test scores was their only strength. A test-optional admission approach actually aligns well with our current practice.” Cabasco wrote in an email to The Wire.

Kurt Hoffman, Whitman physics professor and a member of the Admission and Financial Aid faculty committee, discussed the nature of the ongoing conversation.

“I’ve heard this idea discussed in the past. There was a student resolution by ASWC concerning making this change, and there have been conversations for several years about moving towards this position,” Hoffman said.

Whitman English professor Theresa DiPasquale sees this shift towards test optional admission as a way to include more applicants from more diverse backgrounds.

“Many students, regardless of how they do on the test, do not feel that those are the best way to represent their abilities.” She said, “for whatever reason the standardized test didn’t go well-whether it be an illness when they took it, or income inequality, cultural bias that makes it difficult to take the test, some sort of learning disability that makes it difficult to take the test, whatever it might be, that might not prevent them from doing well at Whitman,” 

Melissa Clearfield also thought that the possibility of standardized tests becoming optional would benefit students who are not normally considered for acceptance.

“There should be other ways to evaluate whether a potential student will succeed at Whitman,” Clearfield said.

Some of the other ways that the admissions team would evaluate students include focus on “academic achievement, rigor of courses taken, application essays, breadth and depth of involvement, special talents—in art, theater, leadership, music, athletics, etc.—, letters of recommendations, work history, interviews, and the context of an applicant’s school and community,” Cabasco wrote in an email.

Cabasco spoke to the expectations that the change to a test optional application process will affect who applies to Whitman.

“We don’t expect to see a dramatic change in the quality of the applicants or enrolled students, but I would hope that we would see a more socioeconomically and ethnically diverse applicant pool,”  wrote in an email.


Some faculty, including Kurt Hoffman, believe that Whitman becoming test-optional might not change the student population as drastically as people expect.


“My sense in looking at the studies that have been done, I’m not sure it changes much, in what Whitman will look like or who will apply,” said Hoffman.


Many faculty are hopeful that this change in admissions policy will give the Admissions office the freedom they need to create the best possible incoming class.


“The admissions people have a very long list of things that we’re asking them to hit the exact sweet spot on, and they are … telling us, in asking for this change, that this change will help them do that. It will help them end up with an entering class of first years and transfer students that are diverse, prepared, and likely to do well at Whitman and graduate,”  said DiPasquale.