By Lily Vining || Campus Life Editor

The Coronavirus pandemic forced the nation to shift in numerous sectors of the economy and society, including high education. Colleges and universities, as well as the students putting in applications, faced unprecedented challenges over the past two years, forcing institutions to change long-held traditions in college admissions. Many students opted to take gap years or enter into the workforce for financial reasons or discouragement with online classes. Those who did apply for college often did so without standardized test scores or weighted GPAs from pass/fail virtual classes.

Reduced access to SAT and ACT testing during the early months of the pandemic caused many colleges that previously relied more heavily on test scores to switch to a model of test-optional or blind admissions. According to FairTest, an organization that aims to reduce the role of standardized testing in college admissions, over 500 colleges and universities that previously required test scores switched to their policy to accommodate. The colleges forced to go test-optional due to COVID were ill-equipped for the drastic increase in applicants that many saw in the first application cycle of the pandemic, resulting in a major panic over yield rate in many institutions.

Franklin & Marshall’s long-held test-optional policy is one way in which the Admissions team was able to stay on track amidst drastic changes in the education field during the pandemic. F&M is celebrating its 30th anniversary of being a test-optional institution, being one among the first wave of schools to acknowledge that “students are more than just a test score.” Hillen Grason, Director of Recruitment, who worked at another test-optional institution before this position at F&M, explains that this policy shifts greater weight on a student’s transcript, essay, and other materials. He adds that there is no stigma in students opting to omit their test scores, as countless factors can influence this decision, including the turbulence during the pandemic. Considering the school’s long history of evaluating students on a more holistic basis, they did not encounter the level of challenges facing other newly test-optional institutions. 

However, the college’s Admissions office has not stayed stagnant through the events of the past two years. F&M Admissions underwent two of its own sweeping changes, in their staff and in their model of evaluating applications. Jimmie Foster Jr., Vice President for Enrollment Management, who also began at F&M in the months before the COVID pandemic surged in 2020, runs the team of mostly new admissions counselors, some based in Lancaster and others located in satellite offices throughout the country. As the team itself changed and adapted to its hybrid workplace, a new model also changed the nature of their work. 

The team is currently in their second year of a Committee Based Evaluation Process (CBE) based on a model used by the University of Pennsylvania. In this model, each application has two readers— dubbed the “Franklin” and “Marshall”— reviewing it simultaneously. The Franklin, or territory manager, focuses on academic materials and more quantitative data, including GPA, test scores, and letters of recommendation. The “Marshall” focuses on more qualitative details on the application, including interview notes, the personal essay, supplemental materials, and portfolios. 

If the readers are in agreement, the application is either moved forward or declines, while if contested, it is revisited by a full committee meeting at the end of the process. While CBE requires more eyes on one application, it has been more efficient, a major strength as the committee works on reviewing the second largest applicant pool in the school’s history. Foster also notes that the CBE process allows for more diverse perspectives to review each application. However, due to the structure and strict schedule of the model, there is less room for flexibility for staff to begin their first reads of applications, one downside to the model.

Through the CBE model and use of regional admissions counseling, Foster anticipates the applicant pool in the upcoming years. “I would love to see us surpass 10,000 applicants,” says Foster, who aims to increase the number of first-choice applicants in both early decision and regular decision rounds. While around half of admissions come from early decision rounds one or two, Foster still notes that many promising students come from regular decisions. There are other ways, Grason adds, that students can show their interest in the school than only by applying ED. F&M also is unique in its decision to provide the same financial aid policy for all admitted students, even those accepted in early decision. Foster also takes pride in its ability to offer financial aid for international applicants, another feature often unseen at other institutions.

All of these elements unique to the admissions process at F&M allow the community to continue growing with more diversity and inclusion. With the outcry against racial injustice that surged in the summer of 2020 still very present in our society today, college admissions offices including F&M’s made strides with greater DEI initiatives. The college brought in a DEI official to work directly with the Admissions team. 

Also, the college has had success with an initiative recently implemented, Emerging Summer Scholars Academy (SSA). Through the program, first-generation and students of color arrive on campus one month before the fall semester to take two summer courses. Foster notes how this allows this cohort more time to acclimate and to move into leadership roles before their first semester. 

F&M has also expanded its pre-college programming, a collection of community-based organizations across the country working to bring students from diverse backgrounds to F&M sooner in the recruitment process. This has directly resulted in applicant pool diversity growing incredibly in the past decade. Grason also highlights the influence of the American talent institute in increasing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in the college community. Both counselors take pride in the Posse program in New York City, which is in its 18th year, and Miami, in its 11th.  “The program brings students that come from diverse backgrounds and brings diverse thought, which is “something we strive for every day,” says Grason. The Admissions office’s main goal through DEI initiatives is to continue admitting and enrolling students who will push community and institutions forward and inspire future generations of diverse diplomats.

Even with the drop in applicants during COVID, the number of students expressing interest in F&M and applying is continuing to trend upward as we enter into a new chapter of diversity and inclusion, in high education and society as a whole.

Lily Vining is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is