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'We decided to go test blind': University admissions requirements change due to COVID-19

UNE went completely test-blind, while the University of Maine system made SAT and ACT scores an optional piece of the application process.

MAINE, Maine — The pandemic is having an impact on the college admissions process but this time, in a positive way. Some of the changes include rules about standardized tests and financial aid.

"We've completely re-done the playbook amid the pandemic," said Christopher Richards, vice president of enrollment management at the University of Maine.

A big change for the University of Maine system is that it let students and their families know three months earlier what their financial aid package would be. It gave students their financial aid package details last November, instead of in February.

"And this financial aid initiative to get that information to families as early as possible with three months more than normal is huge for us," Richards said.

The University of Maine System, which includes USM, also made SAT and ACT scores an optional piece of the application process.

"1,500 students gained access in the opportunity to attend the University of Maine," added Richards.

The University of New England went test-blind, meaning they don't even look at SAT or ACT scores when making admission decisions. When it made the decision a year ago, It was the fourth such school in the country, there are now 69 test-blind institutions, according to FairTest. 

"We decided to go test blind, and not review the test at all, we felt it was a much stronger statement to students and families during covid," said Scott Steinberg, University of New England vice president of admissions. 

UNE brought back in-person campus tours, the new rule is one family or student and a tour guide only.

"We are particularly interested in the curriculum they've taken during high school or college as appropriate, and the grades they've obtained. Interesting sidebar, even though we've gone test blind, our academic quality has maintained, in fact, the high school GPA we are seeing in our accepted students is a little bit higher than it was last year," Steinberg said.

Many school officials tell us those changes are here to stay, as are virtual campus tours for those who can't attend an in-person tour.

Many Maine universities nowadays looking for leadership, classes taken, and GPA, that doesn't mean the process is less rigorous or less competitive.

"We are looking for reasons to admit the student, I always like to say that proudly," said Jared Cash, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Southern Maine.

USM and UMaine report their biggest growth has come from out-of-staters.

"Maine is on the up right now, it's got a lot of attention based on the success that we've had relative to other states in managing the pandemic," said Cash.

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"We currently have 1,120 deposited students which is a lead of 72.5% over last year in a year-to-date measure. We don't anticipate bringing in a class that ends up being such a large margin, however it is a strong early indicator that enrollment interest is very strong and we are excited about the trends we are seeing now as we look forward," said Richards.

Central Maine Community College has always aimed to remove the most barriers for students to have access to higher education. "We serve a lot of non-traditional students, students that have been out of high school 5,10, 20 years, we sit down and have conversations with them," said Andrew Morong, associate dean of enrollment management at CMCC. "Students have more of a hand in determining their placement into certain classes and programs than they've ever had before, when you give them more control over that process and they know we are looking at their whole process, they have more buy-in."

Bowdoin College was the first to go test-optional in 1969. Director of Admissions Claudia Marroquin said in addition to already being test-optional, Bowdoin changed its application fee about five years ago to automatically waive the fee for any student who might be first-generation to college or applying for financial aid.

"We've also made available many virtual offerings to make ourselves even more accessible and to help ease the fear of college searching during a pandemic," added Marroquin.

Randi Arsenault, assistant vice president of admissions and financial aid and dean of admissions at Colby College told NEWS CENTER Maine that the college took several steps over the last few years to help students: "This includes making it free for all students to apply to Colby, not requiring standardized test scores or extra essays, and launching a statewide outreach program for middle and high school students. The College has also implemented new financial aid policies to ensure the most talented students from all backgrounds have access to a Colby education, ensuring nearly half of all American families can expect a parent or guardian contribution of $0."

Arsenault says this year's applicant pool was the largest and most competitive in Colby’s history.

"More than 15,700 students applied for admission to the Class of 2025, resulting in a 13 percent increase from last year’s record-breaking applicant pool of 13,922 and a more than 200 percent growth since 2014," Arsenault said.