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Test-flexible admissions at Boston University and Fordham University

Many US universities are implementing test-flexible admissions decisions by de-emphasizing standardized tests like the ACT or SAT. We speak with two universities who have adopted this policy.

By Rachelle Bernadel

Questions of access, equity and diversity have become mainstream conversations not only within the educational world but the world, in general. From political elections to school policy, many industries are committed to understanding the ways in which we make opportunities for upward mobility more available for diverse populations. When it comes to those in higher education, admissions boards are wrestling with these topics as well. As the IB is working to develop better practices of making our own programmes more inclusive, we often take notice when we see our colleagues in higher education doing the same.

“We feel confident we are able to assess students’ academic qualifications for admission to Fordham based on their performance in the [Diploma Programme] and predicted overall results.” – Monica Esser, Director of International Enrollment Initiatives, Fordham University.

This was the case for Boston University who now offers a test-flexible option for students overseas in the IB Diploma Programme (DP). Also, Fordham University has recently shifted their admissions policy to being test-flexible for some applicants. As FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing puts it, if an institution is test optional it means they are “test flexible” or otherwise de-emphasize the use of standardized tests by making admissions decisions — without using ACT or SAT scores.

“I’ve been visiting IB schools since I began at [Boston University] 20 years ago … the IB students I’ve met are curious, eager, engaged and reflective.” – Anne Corriveau, Director in the Office of International Admissions, Boston University

Q&A with Boston University and Fordham University:

Anne Corriveau, Boston University: BU examines our testing and admissions policies each and every year, therefore we’re always looking for ways to improve our process. With reported challenges in accessing the SAT and ACT overseas, we wanted to examine other ways for international students to meet our admissions requirements. As BU has been one of the top hosts of international students in the US for decades, we have come to value both the rigor and the quality of the Diploma Programme. Therefore, we knew there was an opportunity for us to eliminate one of the barriers for high-achieving IB students in schools overseas to apply to BU.

Monica Esser, Fordham University: There are increased challenges to SAT/ACT testing for overseas students: reduced international SAT testing dates, online ACT testing which has limited where this test can be offered, large scale score cancellations and delays, etc. Fordham is responding to prospective students, overseas counselors and the NACAC and International ACAC calls for greater flexibility on the part of member universities. We are trying to address the recent challenges our prospective students face in seeking to take these standardized tests.

Anne: Admission selection process at BU is holistic. We consider a myriad of factors when assessing each student’s application, including their unique personal story. We closely examine each student’s transcript of secondary school grades (including IB predicted grades), recommendations, essays, standardized test scores, experiences in high school, leadership roles, community services activities and any other information included in their application. IB students will continue to be reviewed in an holistic manner but their review will be completed without an SAT or ACT score.

Monica: Students apply to Fordham via the Common Application. In the school specific section, there are questions that lead eligible students (overseas full IB diploma candidates) to select the test flexible option for their Fordham application. The testing requirement will then be automatically waived from their Fordham applicant portal checklist.

Anne: I’ve been visiting IB schools since I began at BU 20 years ago. It’s been amazing to observe the growth of the IB worldwide. The IB students I’ve met are curious, eager, engaged and reflective. I’ve found BU’s fusion of both the liberal arts and professional education a perfect fit for students in the rigorous Diploma Programme.

Monica: The Diploma Programme is good preparation for a Fordham liberal arts and sciences education. The breadth of coursework, the rigor of the extended essay, the thought process in theory of knowledge (TOK) and the attention to the larger world encouraged in creativity, activity, service (CAS) are all directly applicable to the program at a Jesuit university like Fordham with a required philosophy classes, a strong emphasis on ethics and community service and a rigorous broad based core curriculum.

Anne: The IB diploma is a credential we know well. The DP curriculum prepares students extraordinarily well for higher education. What also impresses me about the DP is that it develops writing and research skills, leadership, personal qualities and other characteristics that make it a unique comprehensive higher education credential.

Monica: We feel confident we are able to assess students’ academic qualifications for admission to Fordham based on their performance in the Diploma Programme and predicted overall results. The Fordham application review is holistic and incorporates consideration of the applicants’ writing skills, community involvement, leadership, and academic abilities across multiple subject areas.

Anne: Besides students, the most important audience to communicate with is our counseling colleagues. We have sent them emails, made announcements on social media, added content to the BU Admissions website, and discussed the policy at international conferences. We are eager to continue to spread the word about our new test-flexible policy, available here:

Monica: Fordham has updated information on this SAT/ACT test flexible policy on our website at We communicated with hundreds of international secondary school guidance and college counselors about this new policy in the summer of 2018. We continue to update prospective students, secondary schools counselors and other university advisors through a myriad of communications. Thank you for helping to spread the work to IB diploma candidates who may be interested in applying to Fordham.

Test-flexible/optional policies have been an area of wide debate in the education community. On the one side, arguments cautioning test-flexible/optional policies from an article in the New York Times shared a few points to consider. These policies may cause discrepancy when it comes to determining merit aid, might inflate selectivity, creates an incomplete picture of how an institution may market itself.

With many of these very legitimate concerns arising, we are thankful to hear directly from colleagues at Boston University and Fordham University to share their perspective. Both look forward to speaking with universities interested in learning from their experiences and to counselors needing assistance in how to advise their students (including those in IB programmes) in these new environments.

Anne Corriveau is Director in the Office of International Admissions at Boston University. Monica Esser is the Director of International Enrollment Initiatives in the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Fordham University. Explore how their test-flexible policies apply to your university application by visiting their websites:  Boston University and Fordham University.

Based in the IB Global Centre in Washington, DC, Rachelle Bernadel is the University Relations Administrator for North America and also a graduate of the Diploma Programme (DP). She works closely with university admissions officers and faculty on IB recognition issues providing them with the tools to make informed decisions on campus. She is committed to serving counselors and coordinators working with diverse groups of students through the college admissions process.