My upbringing might be considered typical for Maine. I came of age in a small, close-knit community where most everyone knew your name and your roots, kept you grounded, and rallied around you in times of triumph and tragedy. A humble place where your worth was determined by your goodness, generosity and work ethic before any external affiliation or quantitative measure.

Like many Maine high school students, my parents finished high school but never graduated from college. There were no dinner table discussions of college rankings, top-tier academic programs, or the best pathways to graduate school. There were no week-long college road trips or consultants hired to bolster my admissions credentials. We didn’t know such things existed, let alone why they mattered.

Nevertheless, my parents’ quiet resolve towards my continued education built a strong foundation for my aspirations. I was fortunate to also be surrounded by dedicated educators who challenged and supported me in reaching even higher, including one particular teacher who invited me to a week-long, early-morning SAT prep course he had organized. An Oxford Hills alumnus with an Ivy League degree, he inherently understood something I didn’t yet grasp: that my score on a single test would impact my future in ways nearly unimaginable to me as a 17-year-old growing up in western Maine.

In the years since — first as a student at Colby and now as the director of admissions there — I’ve become all too familiar with how household income and parental education can impact standardized test scores and enrollment outcomes. Even with hard work and exceptional community and family support, those from the neediest backgrounds are the most at risk of underperforming on standardized tests and considering and enrolling at colleges and universities that do not match their academic credentials. It’s an unfair disadvantage, one that’s outsized in Maine, where the median household income consistently lags behind regional and national levels and less than 30 percent of adults hold a bachelor’s degree.

Recognizing the impact of this uneven playing field on excellent students from Maine and around the world, this week Colby College announced we will no longer require students to submit their standardized test scores with their application for admission. Colby is certainly not the first institution to adopt a test-optional admissions policy, nor are we likely to be the last. And while these policies indeed make higher education accessible, they are just one factor in addressing the fact that for many students with backgrounds similar to mine, the significance of their standardized test scores — submitted alongside their application or not — will be lost on them along with other nuanced aspects of the college admissions and financial aid process. Thankfully that’s changing as institutions like Colby initiate comprehensive and far-reaching efforts to remove barriers.

Through the Colby Commitment, we are continually seeking new ways to identify, enroll and support the most talented students across our home state and beyond. In addition to removing our standardized test score requirement, in recent years we have invested an additional $5 million in financial aid, guaranteed access to global internships and research experiences, and made it entirely free to apply.

Last year, with an announcement that was deeply personal for me, we ensured students with a total household income of $60,000 or less and typical assets — more than half of all Maine families — would not need to make a parent or guardian contribution for attendance at Colby. This important initiative built upon our commitment to Maine (we grant about $7 million annually in financial aid to students from our home state) and longstanding promise to fully meet every student’s financial need with grants rather than loans.

In November our admissions and financial aid staff will embark on a two-day travel endeavor aimed at visiting every public high school in the state — from Kittery to Madawaska, and from Bethel to Lubec. Our hope is the exceptional students we encounter along the way will see themselves at places like Colby, an institution that so deeply changed the trajectory of my life, and one that will continue to do so for Maine students for generations to come.

Much work remains to ensure students from backgrounds like mine have the nuanced knowledge and understanding to access many of the world’s top colleges and universities, but if the efforts I see taking place at Colby and in countless communities throughout this great state are any indication, we are well on our way to achieving that mission.

Randi Arsenault is director of admissions at Colby College and a member of the class of 2009.


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