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Bethel Announces Test-Optional Policy for Admissions Applicants

Responding to changes in demographics and standardized test policies, Bethel will allow most students to choose whether or not they’d like to include an ACT or SAT score with their application.

By Monique Kleinhuizen '08, GS'16, new media strategist

April 21, 2020 | 8 a.m.

Student at Bethel University

There’s a lot to think about when finishing high school and choosing a college. Bethel is excited to announce that taking—or retaking—a standardized test no longer needs to be one of them for Bethel applicants. Bethel has adopted a “test-optional” policy, meaning that prospective undergraduate students with a high school GPA of 3.2 or higher will no longer be required to submit an ACT or SAT score when they apply.

Bethel joins a growing number of liberal arts institutions, nationally, that are moving away from having a strong focus on test scores for student acceptance. By 2017, over half of the top liberal arts schools celebrated as “top-tier” by U.S. News & World Report no longer required test scores for admission, and fairtest.org reports over 1,100 four-year colleges and universities have moved away from the practice. 

This spring, COVID-19 has prohibited many students from taking or retaking their standardized tests. And this fall, ACT policies are changing in ways that could exacerbate racial, gender, and economic achievement gaps, prompting Bethel to make the decision it’s been weighing for some time.

“We are committed to evaluating the whole person and recognize that standardized testing isn't always an accurate measurement of a student's true abilities. Studies have shown that the most accurate predictor of success in college is what you do every day in the classroom—not simply your results on one standardized test."

— Bret Hyder, director of admissions, College of Arts & Sciences

Students of color, first-generation college students, and those who speak English as a second language tend to perform lower on standardized tests even if they do well in their classes. In 2019, one in 10 new Bethel students was a first-generation college student—the highest that percentage has ever been. Looking forward, one in three Minnesota children ages 5-17 are first-generation students, and nine out of 10 plan to attend college.  

As of 2016—the last time this data point was tracked at Bethel—4% of new Bethel students spoke a language other than English at home, and 8% of the entire Minnesota population spoke English as a second language. With only 24% of ACT takers scoring high enough to be accepted at Bethel—meaning there’s a small pool of potential students to recruit, and a large number of universities competing for them—it’s imperative that Bethel be able to attract those future students. Initial data shows that within most majors, Bethel has high success and retention among students who came in with lower test scores.  

A plethora of test-prep classes and books are available, but they’re expensive and time-consuming. Students whose families have less economic means, or who need to work to help support their families, don’t have the same access to those resources, and as a result, don’t have the same test-taking opportunity. 

The ACT also recently announced that this fall, it will begin “superscoring,” meaning students can pay to retake specific portions of their test, and their scores will be averaged to showcase their “maximum potential.” This will artificially raise scores across the board, splitting hairs in the admissions process for already-excellent students and exacerbating achievement gaps for others.

“We’re already hearing from families who’d be a really great fit at Bethel, and whose students have excellent GPAs and extracurricular involvement. But they’re hung up on a less-than-stellar test score, and retaking the ACT five and six times,” says Hyder, adding that increasingly common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can dramatically impact students’ performance on tests. “An ACT is a measure of four hours in a student’s life. We’d much rather focus on their entire academic career. A GPA is a much more accurate predictor of success in college.”

“If a student is otherwise high-achieving and wants to be at Bethel, we simply don’t want test score to stop them from being here.”

— Bret Hyder

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

When does this take effect?

Immediately. New applicants for the fall 2020 semester, who would like to submit their application without a test score, should contact their enrollment counselor for instructions. All applicants for spring 2021 and beyond will see this new policy reflected on the online application.  

Are any students excluded from this policy change?

All students who are enrolled in an public or private high school within the United States and have a GPA of 3.2 or higher will be able to apply without a test score. Homeschooled and international students will still need to provide a test score. Students who’d like to study nursing should submit a test score if they’d like early acceptance to the program.  

Does this mean Bethel is lowering its admissions standards? 

No. The average GPA of incoming students is about 3.5, and we don’t anticipate that changing with this policy. We’re committed to admitting students who are academically high-achieving, well-rounded, and involved in their communities. 

What application criteria will Bethel look at instead of test scores?

If a student chooses not to submit a test score, we’ll use GPA to gauge academic achievement and essay questions to determine whether a student is a good fit for Bethel’s faith-centered learning environment. Both are important factors in selecting students who are likely to be successful at Bethel.  

If I apply without a test score, will that impact my financial aid package? 

No. Financial aid will continue to be allocated based on need and merit. Merit scholarships can be allocated based on GPA, but if a student feels that their test score fairly illustrates their academic achievement, they may still submit one.

Apply to Bethel

Students are still being accepted for fall semester at Bethel! Over 100 areas of study allow students to go deep in an area they love—with hands-on learning both on-campus and off—and 90% of students receive financial aid. Want to be a Royal? 

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