Farid Abdelrahman graduated from Northeast High School in Philadelphia with a 3.88 GPA, a string of leadership and extracurricular experiences, and big aspirations: He wants to become a neurosurgeon and open hospitals all over the world.
But his SAT score wasn't so good. Abdelrahman moved to the United States six years ago from Egypt, and still struggles with English, making the reading part challenging.
"I was really upset," said Abdelrahman, 17. "I thought I couldn't go anywhere."
He's exactly the kind of student that Temple University had in mind a year ago when it became the first public research university in the Northeast to allow students to apply without an SAT or ACT score.
Instead, students could complete four essay questions designed to assess attributes such as leadership, self-awareness, goal-setting, determination, and grit. Essays were read and scored by a cadre of graduate students, and apparently they - and the rest of the admissions team at Temple - liked what they heard from Abdelrahman.
He not only was accepted, but also admitted to the honors program.
Nearly a quarter of Temple's record 30,000-plus applicants this year did not submit standardized test scores. Nearly two-thirds of them were women, and about the same were minority students.
For years, critics have called the SAT an unreliable predictor of college readiness that discriminates against minority students and those from low-income families.
For Temple, which is in the heart of North Philadelphia, a section of the city where most students are minorities who live in poverty, the decision to go test-optional could prove key. Many students from Philadelphia's neighborhood high schools are finishing at the top of their class but have SAT scores in the 800s, putting them at a disadvantage.
"We cannot ignore the mounting evidence that standardized test scores inject socio-economic bias into the admissions and financial-aid equations," Hai-Lung Dai, Temple's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said last summer in announcing the change.
University officials say the new policy has contributed to what's shaping up to be a banner year in admissions at Temple, expected to yield a freshman class well over 4,500.
The percentage of students who enrolled by paying a $200 deposit is up 9.2 percent over this time last year.
What's more, the percentage of African Americans and Latinos who enrolled has jumped by 22 percent and 26 percent, respectively, said William N. Black, senior vice provost for enrollment management. This year, 670 African Americans and 378 Latinos have enrolled.
And the class (as measured by students who paid a deposit) has improved: The average GPA is 3.51, up from 3.47. The average SAT has jumped to 1155, up from 1122. At least some of that SAT boost can be attributed to the new policy, Black said.
Temple officials don't know how many students applied from the Philadelphia School District but noted that applications from Philadelphia (including private, district and charter schools) are up 8.2 percent, to 4,101.
A smaller percentage of test-optional applicants followed through and finished their applications than those who submitted test scores. But Black said that's not a surprise, given the essay requirement for applicants who do not submit SAT scores.
Roughly 60 percent of such applicants completed, compared with almost 90 percent for those who included test scores.
Of those who completed applications, a smaller share of test-optional applicants was admitted - about half - compared with 68 percent of those with test scores.
Black cautions that numbers may change by a few percentage points before classes start, depending on students who choose not to attend and others who apply.
Also contributing to the strong class, he said, were more aggressive recruiting, a merit scholarship program, and Temple's "Fly in Four" program, which offers students support to finish college in four years.
Temple's tab could figure in, too. The university, where tuition and room and board for in-state students runs about $25,000, costs less than private schools.
But the decision to drop the test requirement undoubtedly played a role, Black said.
Nationally, more than 800 colleges - about 30 percent of schools that grant bachelor's degrees - give students the option not to submit test scores.
Bryn Mawr, a private women's college on the Main Line, and Cabrini, a Catholic college also on the Main Line, also eliminated the test score requirement last year.
"Our applications have risen, but we won't have final numbers until the end of the summer," said Bryn Mawr spokesman Matt Gray.
At Cabrini, applications are up 11.8 percent, and the percentages of both African Americans and Latinos accepted to the fall class has increased, college officials said. About 13 percent of applicants did not submit scores.
Cabrini is still analyzing results but is pleased overall, said Robert Reese, vice president of enrollment management.
Rowan University in New Jersey last year made test scores optional for students with a 3.5 GPA or higher, with limited exceptions.
St. Joseph's University and Ursinus College are among other area schools that no longer require standardized test scores.
Temple plans to monitor and nurture through graduation students who are admitted without SATs, using a $275,000 grant from the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities, in partnership with the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Abdelrahman, for one, said he's ready for Temple.
While taking honors courses as part of Northeast's competitive medical, engineering and aerospace magnet program, he also volunteered at a local hospital, served as captain of the swim team, played in a leadership-building soccer program, and participated in Junior Achievement.
He said he'll start out in Temple's Fox School of Business to learn the skills he'll need to start those new hospitals: "I want to help people around the world," he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
30,030 - Total applications received.
7,256 - Applicants who did not submit SAT or ACT scores.
24,793 - Applications completed to date.
68 - Percentage of accepted students who submitted scores.
49 - Percentage of accepted students who did not submit scores.
5,325 - Number of students who enrolled and paid a $200 deposit.
670 - Number of those who are African American, up 22 percent from last year.
378 - Number of those who are Latino, up 26 percent.
4,500 - Approximate size of freshman class.
1155 - Average reading and math SAT score of enrolled freshmen (only those who submitted scores).
3.51 - Average GPA of all students who paid a deposit.
SOURCE: Temple University
Note: Numbers likely will change before the start of class. Some students decide not to attend; others enroll.EndText