WATERVILLE — Thomas College is waiving a long-standing requirement that students submit standardized test scores with their applications, a move officials say they hope will benefit first generation students.

The decision to waive the requirement for the SAT or ACT is already in effect for students applying for admission in the spring of 2015, according to a press release the school sent on Wednesday.

“Research shows that first generation students tend not to do as well,” said Vice President of Enrollment Management Jonathan Kent in an interview. “That’s one of the first things I noticed working here is that a large percentage of our students are first generation. I personally felt that was a disadvantage to them.”

About 70 percent of students at Thomas are first generation, meaning they haven’t had a parent or sibling receive a bachelor’s degree, Kent said. The school is not alone in its decision to waive standardized test requirements. Among the roughly 1,800 non-profit four-year colleges in the U.S., 82 percent required or recommended a college entrance exam, such as the SAT, for admission in 2003, compared with 78 percent in 2013, according to the College Board, the organization that administers the exam.

Colby College, which is also in Waterville, requires applicants to submit standardized test scores, but other local schools such as Unity College in Unity and the University of Maine at Farmington do not.

At Thomas, merit scholarships are currently based on a combination of standardized test scores and GPA, but that will change, Kent said. Students can still submit standardized test scores if they wish, but scholarships will also be awarded without them, he said.

“If someone has a 100 GPA, but they don’t do as well on the test because they have test anxiety or don’t have access to resources to learn how to take the test, they might have lost out on scholarship money,” Kent said. “Research also shows that a high school transcript actually is a better indicator of how a student will do in college.”

At the University of Maine at Farmington, where standardized test scores have not been required since 1992, a large percentage of students still submit SAT scores at some point in the application process, said Eileen Reading, associate director of admission. The exam is also used for class placement, and students who do not submit scores with their application often submit them once enrolled, she said.

“It can be helpful, but rather than how a student performs on a single test, their performance over three years typically tells us a lot more,” Reading said.

In December, UMF announced that the college would eliminate its $40 student application fee, another decision that Reading said was designed to take down barriers to education for first generation students, who make up about 40 percent of the student body.

Reading said, “Thomas has been another leader in working to help first generation students as well. It’s good for them to move in that direction.”

Waiving the SAT requirement at Thomas could boost application numbers, Kent said, although officials at UMF and Unity College said that while standardized test scores are not required, a large percentage of students still choose to submit them.

In 2013, 83 percent of students at UMF had submitted SAT scores at some point, whether during the application process or for class placement, Reading said. At Unity College, more than half of applicants to the school submit standardized test scores during the admissions process, said Joe Saltalamachia, director of admissions.

“I think it is appealing to some students, because if they didn’t do well and think, ‘Oh, I didn’t score well and I don’t have enough to get into the college of my dreams,’ but they see that Unity doesn’t require it — it gives them hope that there is opportunity for them,” he said.

While a decision to submit SAT scores doesn’t usually make or break an acceptance decision, it can be useful to admissions officers in determining how qualified a student is. For example, if a student has a high GPA but low SAT scores, it could cause admissions officials to question how challenging the curriculum is at their high school or whether the school inflates grades.

“We’re not going to judge them by it in terms of acceptance, but sometimes it will throw a red flag to us,” Saltalamachia. “It can trigger a conversation with a student about what happened with the SAT and provide us with a little more information.”

At Thomas, where the acceptance rate is between 80 and 90 percent, officials hope eliminating the requirement for the SAT could actually help make the school more competitive by encouraging smart students who don’t do well on the exam to apply. “I think a smart student who doesn’t do well on the test is a little bit embarrassed so they’ll tend not to apply to schools that require it, whereas now that we don’t require it, we’ll see those students, who still have good GPAs,” Kent said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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