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Pennsylvania colleges streamline admission process

Jamie Martines
| Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, 2:57 p.m.

College applications are not what they used to be as institutions look for ways to cut down on paperwork and streamline the admissions process.

For the first time this year, students applying to Penn State are being asked to include a “Self Reported Academic Record,” known as the SRAR, in place of an official high school transcript.

“It takes some of the pressure off the school counselors to send us transcripts when the student is applying,” said David Gildea, an undergraduate admissions spokesman for the university.

Penn State received more than 70,000 applications for 16,777 spots across its entire system for the fall 2016 term, according to admissions statistics.

If a student is admitted, Penn State then asks for an official transcript from the student's high school. The university does not ask for letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors.

The University of Pittsburgh, which received 27,650 applications for 4,123 spots for the fall 2017 term, has asked students to self-report high school coursework for several years. Like Penn State, Pitt does ask for SAT or ACT scores. It does not require letters of recommendation or essays but encourages students to answer several short-answer questions explaining why they are a good fit for the university.

Speeding up the admissions process gives families more time to schedule campus visits before the commitment deadline in May, said Kellie Kane, Pitt's director of admissions.

“One of the things that we have heard from students and families is that they're not going to come visit campus until they know they're admitted,” Kane said, adding that a visit could help a student decide whether a college or university is the right fit.

Not reported at schools of all sizes and specialties during the admissions process are scores on state tests like the PSSA or the Keystone Exams. Spring 2017 results for both exams were released in October.

Kane said Pitt doesn't receive those results or consider them in the admissions process.

Neither does Penn State.

“When you're talking about the PSSA, that doesn't come into play in our decisions,” Gildea said.

Tests such as the ACT and SAT count for about a third of the application process at Penn State. But high school performance is a more accurate predictor of student success at the university level, Gildea said.

“As students graduate from high school, the more experiences that they've had that contribute to their ability to adjust to university life, it just makes them a better student,” he said.

Small liberal arts schools such as Seton Hill University in Greensburg, which enrolls about 1,500 students, look for similar qualities in applicants, said Mary Finger, university president.

“What we want to make sure is that if we admit a student, that they're going to be successful, that they're going to be able to get through the academic program, flourish in the academic program,” she said.

At a school where about a third of undergraduates are athletes, Finger said, admissions officers look for students who exhibit leadership on and off the field.

Like other schools, Seton Hill no longer requires letters of recommendation or essays — which speeds up the admissions process and gets families into the financial aid process sooner, said Brett Freshour, the university's vice president for enrollment management.

This gives students and families more time to compare schools and financial aid packages, he said.

Close to 1,000 schools nationwide that award bachelor's degrees have become test-optional, according to the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which advocates for an end to what it describes as misuse of standardized tests.

Several schools in Western Pennsylvania, including Allegheny College, Chatham University, Duquesne University, Point Park University and Washington & Jefferson College, are test-optional.

Seton Hill became test-optional several years ago, but many students still submit ACT or SAT scores with their applications. The average high school grade-point average for students accepted to Seton Hill is about 3.6, and the average SAT score is more than 1,100, Finger said.

“With the test scores, it does level the playing field,” Finger said, adding that SAT or ACT scores can give admissions officers insight into a student's performance if they didn't take Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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