Lehigh has moved test optional for the class of 2025. The university's test optional policy is different from other schools that have adopted that same policy. (Annalise Kelloff/B&W Staff)

Lehigh moves test optional for the class of 2025. But there’s a quirk in the policy you won’t find on the admissions website.

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Lehigh has waived the requirement of submitting SAT and ACT scores for applicants for the class of 2025 and transfer students for the 2020-2021 academic year. This decision was made in response to the College Board and ACT cancelling testing dates due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

However, student athletes must still comply with the Patriot League’s regulations that require standardized testing during the application process. For international students whose classes were conducted in a language other than English, certain exams are still mandatory.

“It’s worth emphasizing, and [Lehigh] will emphasize it to our prospective students and families that are inquiring about Lehigh, that there won’t be a benefit to the students who submit versus a disadvantage to the students who choose not to submit,” said Bruce Bunnick, director of Admissions.

Ariana Simms, ‘23, expressed concern that if students choose not to submit their test scores, it would reflect badly on their applications.

“We do take a very holistic approach to reviewing applications,” Bunnick said. “That is a commonly used expression, but for us it means we are taking the entire applicant and everything they submit into account in support that the testing is a component and it’s not the sum total of the individual.”

Lehigh’s policy is different than other schools’ decision to go test optional

But interestingly, Lehigh’s test-optional policy for this coming year still requires a student, once committed to attending Lehigh, to still submit test scores for institutional data collection purposes. This test score will not impact the admissions offer already extended to the student. 

“It won’t have an impact as far as rescinding an offer of admission or turning a student away because we discover that they opted not to submit in their test results, where historically we’ve not admitted students,” Bunnick said. “All matriculated students will eventually be required to submit their scores.”

However, for students that chose not to take the SAT or ACT and applied exclusively to test optional schools, an exception will be granted — though Bunnick said that is an unlikely scenario. There is no mention on Lehigh’s undergraduate admissions website of committed students needing to submit test scores. 

The submission of test scores will occur during the summer before the class of 2025 begins in the fall, along with their final official high school transcript, which has always been a condition for admitted students.

“[The admissions team] will make them aware of it in our communication to them,” Bunnick said. “Our hope is to not create anxiety, that somehow their admission would be revoked.” 

The fee to send their scores from the College Board and ACT will have to be covered by the students themselves. But Bunnick said the university will work with students if the cost of sending their scores is burdensome to the family. 

Gurleen, a rising high school senior from Edison, New Jersey, who did not wish to use her last name for this story, is planning on applying for admission to the class of 2025. She said while her desire to apply to Lehigh has not changed because of the test optional admissions process, she feels better about her application despite mixed feelings that she had already studied to take the ACT.

“For some people, standardized testing isn’t their thing, and school grades are better,” Gurleen said. “I think it’s a good decision since everything has gotten canceled. I know some people didn’t do so well and didn’t get the chance to redo it and improve.”

Lehigh’s decision to require submission of test scores contrasts with some schools that already had the test optional policy and do not request scores after the application.

Ithaca College and Montclair State University implemented the policy in 2012 and 2015, respectively. For Ithaca’s application, students do not have to send any test scores at any point if they choose not to. Montclair State also has no requirement listed on its website of committed students needing to submit scores.

Both schools emphasized the importance of the rigor of high school courses over standardized test scores when examining applications in order to allow a more diverse group of students. Ithaca encouraged students to challenge themselves through dual enrollment, AP or IB classes. Montclair State mentioned the recognition applicants would receive for taking courses more challenging than their required curriculum, as well as having strong letters, essays, and community involvement.

The College of New Jersey also became test optional due to COVID-19, but chose to make it last for an additional two years in the future. Their website also has no mention of committed students needing to submit scores.

Looking beyond this year

Lehigh’s test optional process will be used as a pilot program to see if it makes sense to use in future admissions processes, Bunnick said. He said a firm commitment hasn’t been made yet, but the possibility to remain test-optional will be revisited if it proves successful.

Simms said she believes the test-optional admissions process should be something Lehigh carries into the future. 

“For this year, since it’s going to be so hard to take the test,” she said. “I think it was a good choice, but I think Lehigh should look to do that all the time, not just now, because it’s another barrier that they’re taking away that could make it better for applying and recruiting a wider variety of students.”

Simms believes the test-optional opportunity could help break down barriers that standardized testing created for students from lower income backgrounds or first generation families that might not have had the resources to be as well prepared to take the tests as higher income students.

Bunnick speculates a possibility for a small increase in the applicant pool, but said he does not believe that Lehigh’s rate of acceptance and selectivity will be compromised. Lehigh saw more than 3,000 fewer applicants for the class of 2024 compared to the class of 2023, even while the university attempts to grow its student body under the Path to Prominence.

“We do our best to try to attract the students who are a good fit for the university, but also who possess the academic traits and the leadership traits and the commitment to community traits that make Lehigh such a great place,” Bunnick said.

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