Roadmap Academics

University adopts test-optional admission policy for music and architecture students

The Frost School of Music and School of Architecture can now admit students based on their music auditions or artistic portfolios, not standardized test scores.
The Frost School of Music and School of Architecture can now admit students based on their music auditions or artistic portfolios, not standardized test scores.

The new test-optional policy will apply only to applicants to the School of Architecture and the Frost School of Music. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

The University of Miami has adapted its admission requirements for prospective music and architecture students, allowing high schoolers to decide whether to submit their SAT or ACT scores, along with their auditions and portfolios, when applying to the Frost School of Music or the School of Architecture.

The new test-optional policy, which is common among liberal arts colleges but less so among research-focused institutions, will apply only to applicants to the University’s Frost School and School of Architecture, both of which have long required students to audition or submit portfolios. Now, the auditions and portfolios will carry more weight in the admission process.

“We struggled with the notion that your ability to succeed or be a difference-maker inside or outside the classroom at the University of Miami is based on one test of one day of your life, rather than on your four years of academic achievement, your extra-curricular pursuits, and your talent,” said John Haller, vice president of enrollment management, who sought the policy change approved by UM President Julio Frenk, Jeffrey Duerk, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and the deans of both schools.

“So going forward,” Haller continued, “if a student has a 3.7 GPA and is the Babe Ruth of the bassoon, that student could be admitted to the Frost School without submitting a test score. While in the past, if that student had a 1,000 on the SAT he or she wouldn’t even be considered.”

But like all prospective UM students, Frost School and School of Architecture applicants will still need to meet the rest of the University’s rigorous standards, which have increasingly placed more emphasis on high school performance—including GPA, coursework, and extracurricular activities—than on standardized test scores.

“The Frost School is, we think, the best place to study music if you’re both very smart and very talented. And that’s continuing to be the case,” said Frost School Dean Shelton G. Berg. “That being said, tests are not the only way to ascertain how well somebody will do here or how smart they are.”

As Berg noted, many high schoolers don’t have access to SAT prep courses because of their financial situation. Others take advanced music courses rather than trigonometry or calculus. “But that doesn’t mean they’re not very smart and we don’t want to exclude those very talented, smart applicants for whom test scores might not be the best indication.”

School of Architecture Dean Rodolphe el-Khoury welcomed the test-optional policy for expanding, not limiting, the options and tools available to assess applicants. “This allows students to present a wider array of evidence to help us make our decision, which is always based on a constellation of factors,” el-Khoury said. “Part of what we look for is the creative spark, which could be a photograph, a poem, a painting. Sometimes that’s more impressive than mechanical drawings or conventional architectural plans. But you can’t have low grades and an amazing portfolio. That’s not good enough. You have to have both.”

The emphasis given that constellation of factors has been changing since Haller joined the University in September 2014. Standardized test scores, he said, once played a big role in UM’s admission decisions. But with a growing body of national research showing that high school GPA is a stronger predictor of a student’s GPA during their first year of college, and of their graduation rate, that has changed.

“We still look at standardized tests scores, but frankly we spend most of our time evaluating and critiquing how you’ve done in high school—both in and out of classroom, which courses you’ve taken, how you’ve challenged yourself—because that is the greater predictor of success at the college level,” Haller said.