Entrance Essays Won’t Help or Hurt UT Applicants

KNOXVILLE — New essay questions added to the most widely used college entrance exams will not improve a student’s chances of being admitted to the University of Tennessee, but it won’t hurt.

The College Board, which oversees the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) voted recently to add an essay component to their exam, with professional readers hired to analyze the essays submitted by test-takers.

The American College Testing service also plans to add an essay to the ACT test.

UT uses ACT and SAT scores to help make their admissions decisions. However, UT Director of Undergraduate Admissions Marshall Rose said the new essay section wouldn’t help the decision-making process that much.

“I don’t foresee us really using the SAT or ACT essay questions in making our admission decisions,” Rose said. “We have our own essay questions for people who apply to UT. One writing sample is for marginal students, so we can determine if they meet the criteria for admission. For the students who are scholarship material, we have a separate essay.”

Richard Bayer, UT dean of enrollment services, said preliminary figures show the average ACT score for incoming freshmen in 2002 is the highest in recent history, 24.2 out of 36 possible points. In 2001 incoming freshmen averaged 23.5 on the ACT, 1092 points out of a possible 1600 on the SAT, and had an average high school grade point average of 3.31, Bayer said.

Proponents of essay questions say they act as an equalizer between students from wealthy homes and students from poor homes, so that excellent students from all socioeconomic levels can be identified.

Rose said the nationwide standardized essay questions still won’t give him enough information about potential students.

“My understanding is we’ll just get a numerical score of what that writing sample says,” Rose said. “For me, that’s not sufficient. I need to know what the student has to say about whatever question we feel is appropriate.”

The ACT and SAT changes are expected to be in place by 2005.