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Why Test-Optional Colleges are not Test-Blind

Posted on May 23, 2022 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (20)


I finished high school in the late seventies, and there was a lot of talk about how the SAT was an unfair test that merely benefitted the wealthy. Many predicted its demise within ten years. Here we are almost 45 years later, and only now that the pandemic created testing obstacles for a short period of time during the height of covid has renewed discussion of the relevance of the SAT and ACT come up again. The real question is what does “test-optional” mean?

As of early 2022, 64% of the top 200 colleges and universities list themselves as test optional. Only 5.5% have announced that test scores will again be required; included among these schools are MIT, Georgetown, UNC Chapel Hill, Georgia Tech, and Florida State University (I).

 There are five critical reasons that “test-optional” means that SAT and ACT scores continue to be important for high school students who want to be accepted to the colleges of their choice: 1) High school grade inflation, 2) other features of college applications – essay and extracurriculars – have issues, 3) recent admissions statistics show major advantages of sending test scores, 4) test scores continue to determine merit scholarships and acceptance into honors programs, and 5) top schools, including MIT, state that the SAT and ACT are more important than grades in determining college readiness. Further, more schools are announcing that SAT/ACT tests will again be required for applicants in the future.


1. High School Grade Inflation

 The ACT recently wrote a blog about grade inflation as a “systemic problem in US High Schools” (II) . Indeed, in the 1970s, 25-30 percent of freshman at 4-year college graduated from high school with an A+, A or A- average, whereas in 2020, that percent was closer to 68% (III).

 With this much grade inflation, college admissions officers need more than just a GPA to distinguish among their applicants. Enter the SAT and ACT scores.


2. College Essay and Extracurriculars

 With grade inflation, perhaps the college essay and extracurriculars listed on the Common App will have additional significance? But who really wrote that college essay? David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, nailed this issue: “Add up all the cheating scandals [on the SAT and ACT] any way you want—they don’t compare to the number of students who get substantial help on their essays.”(IV)

Are the extra-curriculars appropriately described or exaggerated? Don’t these items in a college application favor the wealthy who can hire tutors and college advisors? Where is the element whose scores can distinguish among students and represents a “fair” measure of student readiness? Enter the SAT and ACT scores.

 Some will argue that the SAT and ACT tests favor the wealthy who can pay for tutors and coaches for test-prep. Yes, that is true. However, there are plenty of free resources for the underprivileged and underserved. And the tutor or coach is not taking the test – the student is. So, the resulting score represents the student’s efforts and hard work.


3. College Admissions Results show Major Advantages to those Students who submitted scores

 Judi Rubinovitz listed last May in her article “3 Reasons Scores Still Matter at Test Optional Schools” the calculated advantages for students who submitted test scores at these schools (V):

 These statistics make it clear that it has been advantageous for students to submit their scores to test-optional schools.


4. Test Scores have additional value beyond college acceptance

 Beyond its advantage to students in the application process, test scores continue to be the determining factor for such important issues as merit scholarship dollar awards and entrance to college Honors programs. Given the extraordinarily high cost of today’s college education, merit scholarships can make the difference between a college education being affordable versus one that is not. Every student who can score high enough for merit scholarship potential should be prepping for and taking the SAT or ACT. Further, those who desire to attend honors college programs can only be admitted through their SAT or ACT scores.


5. Top Colleges acknowledge that SAT/ACT scores are “more important” than Grades

 Harvard University states in its marketing materials to high school students that “SAT and ACT tests are better predictors of Harvard grades than high school grades…” (Harvard’s Admissions website).

 MIT, who recently chose to require the SAT or ACT beginning in 2024, said this in a 2020 blog post during the pandemic: “We will continue to require the SAT or the ACT, because our research has shown these tests, in combination with a student’s high school grades and coursework, are predictive of success in our challenging curriculum. While we know these tests are not perfect, they do provide an informative and consistent measure of a student’s academic potential.” (VI)


More colleges and universities are likely to require the SAT and ACT for admissions going forward. However, even for those schools that remain test optional, students should understand all the factors that create advantages for admissions and scholarship funds when determining whether to take the SAT or ACT. Educate yourself! Make good decisions. Take the admissions process seriously. If you have concluded that your high-school student should take these tests and do the necessary prep to achieve a high score, contact Shark Tutor LLC.


(I) Natalie Bader,, “Test Optional: What Colleges are, Which aren’t,” 3/18/22,

(II), “Grade Inflation: A Systemic Problem in US High Schools, ACT Report Shows,” 5/16/22.

 (III), “Hiding Inequality,” 4/18/22

(IV) Eren Orbey, “How the Pandemic Remade the SAT,” The New, 5/24/22.

 (V) Judi Rubinovitz,, “Myth Buster: 3 Reasons Scores Still Matter at “Test Optional” Colleges,” 5/5/21

 (VI) Larry S. Su,, “Keep the SAT and ACT,” 8/2/21.


Update on Testing as we begin to Re-open following Covid-19

Posted on April 30, 2020 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (22)

  by renjith krishnan of

Hello Families –


I hope that everyone is safe and healthy in these unusual and interesting times. I wanted to provide an update about college testing options while everyone has some extra time to plan and prepare.

Even though College Board announced that it will not be hosting its June 6 SAT, the ACT is still planning on hosting two tests in June – the originally scheduled June 10 test and the new date of June 13 – as well as two dates in July: originally scheduled July 13 th and new date July 18 th . 1 The ACT is open to exploring the use of brick and mortar locations other than schools, including learning centers from its partner Kaplan. The ACT is also planning on launching online in-home testing by late fall as one additional form of testing. 2 The in-home testing will use a form of remote proctoring, just like the LSAT, GRE and GMAT have already announced and begun starting in June. And, don’t forget that, beginning in September, the ACT will offer online testing for one or more sections of the ACT for those students who do not need to re-take the entire test but only one or two sections. For those who would like to participate in some Free Kaplan ACT test-prep during this down time, there is a virtual BootCamp on April 29 th at 7 pm and a Verbal webinar on May 5 th at 7 pm. 3


I listened to a 90-minute webinar on April 17th with top testing experts including the CEO of the ACT (as well as CEO of LSAT) discuss the testing industry changes given Covid-19. They are all grappling with similar issues of equity, accessibility, ability to offer similar accommodations for students needing them, and how to roll out and communicate their new program offerings. Remote proctoring has been used extensively for five to ten years, and with high-stakes testing (like the ACT), test-makers have opted to do live person remote proctoring using a student’s webcam, in addition to using artificial intelligence to track a student’s eye movements to flag potential issues or cheating. A second form of remote proctoring that has been used extensively is recording, again using webcam and AI software.


The CEO of the ACT emphasized that the new in-home online tests to be introduced this late fall will likely be offered going forward on a permanent basis and will not be the only form of testing. He emphasized the issues of equity and accessibility; consequently, his goal is to offer many different types of testing to make the test more convenient for all students. Alternatives will include paper tests at schools and other learning centers and online tests in-home and at testing centers.


It is important to understand the context that the ACT has been an online test outside of the U.S. for some time, and it no longer offers a paper test in the other countries. So, it has invested in IT for online testing for some time. College Board, even though it has remained silent, has also heavily invested in IT, bringing interactive online Question-and-Answer (QAS) results for PSATs for several years and all SATs beginning in March 2018.


College Board announced similar in-home online testing to begin in the fall ONLY IF schools do not re-open this fall. It is expanding national testing dates for paper tests in schools to include every month of 2020 starting in August. There will also be fall in-school tests (for states such as CT that have the SAT as a diploma exit exam requirement) that replace the cancelled April tests. Last, those students who had registered for the June SAT will be given priority for testing in August, September and October. 4


Given these announcements, I would strongly recommend that students who had been prepping for the ACT/SAT prior to the shelter-in-place and closing of schools consider a plan to either continue or re-engage consistently with their practice material, tutors/coaches, and progress tests.



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How to Get Started with Test Prep

Posted on July 25, 2017 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (36)

Every summer I am bombarded with questions from parents of rising juniors about how to get started with Test Prep. They often ask how they can determine if the ACT or SAT is the better test for their child?

Which Test to Take

As a tutor and coach, my first response is to provide a brief overview of the differences between the tests and ask targeted questions that may help us understand the student’s strengths and challenges. Sometimes, but infrequently, a simple history of the student's profile will point us to the more logical test to pursue. More often, it is best to consider having the student take a full-length (without essay) ACT and SAT sometime over the summer months.

Each test is roughly 3-1/4 hours, so this is a reasonable time commitment. One caveat with this approach is that the ACT is a speed test. Students may benefit from an introduction to specific strategies on how to approach the Reading and Science sections in particular. Further, students may want at least a week’s time to practice techniques and pacing on individual passages in Reading and Science before taking a baseline mock test.

Here is a brief summary of the key differences between the SAT and ACT:

• The SAT is more conceptual, abstract, and think-outside-the-box

• The SAT provides a student almost 40% more time per question

• The New SAT has only 8 released College Board practice tests as of July 2017

• The ACT is more executional than conceptual

• The ACT is a speed test and favors fast readers and processors

• The ACT did not take a complete overhaul similar to what the SAT did, so a student may have access to over a decade of previous ACT tests for test prep

• The ACT has a Science section that is unlike any section of the SAT. It primarily tests a student’s ability to accurately and quickly read and interpret graphs, charts, diagrams, and tables of data in the context of science, with up to 1/3 of the passages covering content areas that the student has not yet been exposed to

The SAT and ACT today are much more aligned in the content tested than they have ever been in the past. However, as shown above, the two tests have vastly different formats. Each test-maker is continuing to make small shifts in content. It appears more challenging today to achieve a top score in the 98-99th percentile in either test than it was five to ten years ago.

If your student takes a baseline test of each test, it is important to score in detail, compare sectional percentiles, and ask the student for his own impressions and preferences of the test. Some students may feel more comfortable working on speed to improve; others may prefer learning content and strategies with the more conceptual test. Either way, you should choose a test prep tutor who can glean all of the valuable information from both baseline tests. A detailed analysis of misses can pinpoint the areas of greatest score improvement opportunity and can provide a roadmap for test prep.

More Decisions

Making the decision to pursue one test over the other is just the first step in the process. Even though most students will decide that they would rather prep for only one test, some may decide to pursue prep for both tests, allowing real test scores to determine a narrowed path down the road. This is just the beginning of the decisions to make in the test prep journey.

The next decision is choosing target test dates and backing into a schedule for test prep. This process is highly individualized, depending on a student’s math status and her extracurricular schedule. I recommend starting early when a student has completed at least Algebra2 during sophomore year.  Starting early offers greater options.

Keep in mind the QAS and TIR dates

I also encourage a student to consider the test dates when it is possible to order a copy of the test, its answer key, and the student’s answers. For the SAT, this is called the Question-and-Answer-service (QAS), and for the ACT, it is the Test Information Release service (TIR). The QAS is available for the October, March, and May test dates. The TIR is available for the December, April, and June test dates. It may be invaluable to receive this information back following a first or second test. Keep in mind that many students take up to three tests before they have achieved their goal scores.

Good luck!

Voila comment nous commencons!

Metacognition and Self-Regulation

Posted on May 25, 2017 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (35)

According to Stanford U’s PhD researcher Patricia Chen, incorporating the study “hacks” of metacognition and self-regulation can easily bring a B-student into the A grades 1

Imagine what these tools can do for test prep!

Metacognition refers to students’ thinking about HOW they are going to study, WHAT resources, WHAT tools, and HOW to prioritize and organize their habits. Self-regulation refers to students having strategies to be able to review their own work, and helps determine some of the key ways to improve their learning.

These tools -- metacognition and self-regulation – should be taught to your students when they participate in a structured test prep program with an experienced tutor or teacher. For example, students will learn that the verbal sections of the SAT and ACT are all about ELIMINATION, not just trying to choose the right answer. In other words, it is critical that a student can justify why each answer not chosen is a wrong answer.

Let’s take an example in SAT Writing or ACT English. We have the following question —

Every summer, one of the country’s largest craft festivals [1] bring together artists from every state….



B) Bringing

C) Brought

D) Brings

Students who are “untrained” will just listen when they read each choice to see which answer they believe “sounds” better. That’s an ok strategy untrained, but if you want to work in metacognition, a good tutor will train the student to skim the answer choices after identifying the part of speech (verb) that is underlined. Noting that the answers have one plural and one singular verb is a tip-off that this question is testing Subject-Verb Agreement. Correctly identifying WHAT the question is testing is the first half of thinking about how to study/practice. The next step is to know the rules on properly identifying the subject and knowing that the pronoun “one” (subject) is singular. Since “one” is singular, it needs to be paired with the verb “brings” – D. Further, the student would have eliminated B because an “-ing” verb is not an action verb. And although “brought” (C ) agrees with the subject “one”, a trained student would review the verbs in the rest of the paragraph to determine that the rest of the paragraph is in the present tense, and not past tense. This would rule out answer choice C.

Now another one –

I planned on gathering five of my friends for a 30-mile bike ride through the winding hills; however, I was having trouble with my brakes. Fortunately, [1] one of my friends, Walt, agreed to come over and help me the next day.



B) one of my friends,Walt

C) one of my friends Walt,

D) one of my friends Walt

A trained student here will skim the answer choices and realize that she is dealing with a comma issue surrounding names and non-essential/essential clauses. Again, it is critical that a student has been trained to identify WHAT the question is testing! A trained student will know that the name will either have NO commas (essential clause) or a pair of commas (non-essential clause). That automatically eliminates B and C. Since the description “one of my friends” is not specific enough to refer to only one person (Walt), then Walt must be essential and should not have any commas surrounding his name. This is answer D. 

Beyond the teaching of HOW to think about EACH individual question on these standardized tests, an experienced tutor or teacher should help a student prioritize WHAT practice is most beneficial and HOW to organize study habits. Using the test-maker’s practice tests is key, but supplementing with the best materials for content drills and content review is also important.

Remember that even parents can help their children learn metacognition when they offer observations and ask their children simple questions such as “what you did last month to study for the test didn’t work too well. What could you do differently or more effectively to prep for this test?”

How can you best help your children in their test prep journey?

Do the tutors and teachers you hire teach metacognition and self-regulation?


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How to Ace the ACT Junior Year by taking the April test

Posted on May 23, 2017 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (36)

© Ydi | Dreamstime Stock Photos

 Tip #1

Plan to take the April ACT during junior year, and plan to make this at least your student’s second or third test. Why? The April test appears to be a favorable test based on my student history because

• most students are in a groove during time in their junior year,

• the April test historically is somewhat “easier” than the other two released tests in December and June, and

• most students have experienced at least one test, kicking the anxiety to the curb and allowing a student to focus in on the sections most needed for score improvement

Tip #2

Plan to include several mock tests in the journey. Baseline testing helps the tutor focus on the most important material that will create the greatest score improvement opportunities. Mock testing during the journey will help monitor progress and continue to refine the areas of focus for practice and tutoring.

Here are a few highlighted case studies from this year that show why I recommend planning for an April test – 

Protect Yourself with these letters to Avoid Calculator Mis-haps on the SAT and ACT

Posted on February 21, 2017 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (2)

Nicole Oringer, Partner and College Counselor of Ivy Education Services, recently alerted us to inappropriate requests at test sites in NJ during the Feb ACT administration to have students clear their calculators of RAM memory. 1

This request clearly goes against existing policy of the ACT: " target="_blank"> 

This request would also go against existing policy of the SAT:" target="_blank">http:// 

I frequently encourage my students to store strategies and formulas, some executable and some look-ups, under the PRGM key on their calculators. These look-ups are primarily helpful as a student practices and prepares for a real test. However, they can also be very useful when taking a real test – whether it is the ACT, the SAT, or the SAT math subject tests.

If you are a student taking an upcoming test, I recommend that you arm yourself with protection against such an inappropriate proctoring request by printing out one of these letters provided by Ivy Education and bringing it with you to the test site:

For the ACT --" target="_blank">http://

And for the SAT –" target="_blank">http://

It is always good to stay informed, stay alert, and be prepared!

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Sneaky ACT Making Changes to Math Section and Essay prompt

Posted on February 21, 2017 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (74)

Typically, the ACT has been upfront about changes to its test format and content. For example, the ACT test-maker wrote White papers announcing changes to its Reading section whereby it planned to introduce a Paired Passage (started in June 2014) and totally change the ACT essay to incorporate an analysis of three different provided perspectives on an issue. The Essay has changed in scoring twice – from the original 0-12 scale to a 0-36 scale and back to a 0-12 scale. White papers again were written to explain to students, educators, and parents the reasoning behind and the execution of these changes.

However, more recently the ACT has “snuck in” some pretty substantial changes in the Math section and in its Essay prompt directions. We can only theorize that these changes are here to stay, just as the Paired Passage was in Reading and the new 6-Passage format was in Science. It is possible, though, that the new Math content was an anomaly on the December test and that the tests going forward will not reflect this new level of difficulty.

These are some of the new topics in Math that have shown up in the recent tests, with particular emphasis on the content that appeared for the first time in the December 2016 test:

• Calculating Horizontal and Slant Asymptotes based on a graph and function’s equation • Using either Synthetic division or Polynomial long division

• Complex Combinations and Probability when Order Matters

• Complex Combinations with multiple groups (previously only covered in Math2 subject tests)

• Vector Math

• Solving for the Determinant of a 2x2 matrix (you need to know the formula!)

• Circle Rotations and Coordinate Geometry

• Domain of Log functions and solving Complex Log equations by logging both sides

• Distance between two complex coordinates in the complex plane

• Identifying the greatest standard deviation in patterns of data options

• Abstract SAT-like expressions with multiple variables

• More complex sequence problems

• More problems with radians

See my previous blog, “Recent Changes to Format of and Increasing Complexity of ACT” written in April 2015.

The one good element of the ACT having “raised the bar” in level of difficulty in Math was that the December ACT Math scale was extremely “lenient”. One of my students who received a 27 score in Math missed 20 questions. On typical prior tests, a 27 score would require no more than 13 misses. It was also possible to miss 5 questions and still receive a 34 score. On typical prior tests, no more than 2 misses would produce a 34 score.

For the ESSAY, the December 2016 test showed the same presentation of a topic that contains tension and provides three different perspectives, but a new set of directions emerged:

“Clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective.”

Previous directions required a student to discuss all 3 perspectives. This is a favorable change to students, and as such, students should know ahead of time to READ the directions and only include those perspectives that can easily be woven into their own three supporting reasons.

MOST FAVORABLE SAT Test coming up -- March 11th

Posted on February 21, 2017 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (123)

Why take the SAT in March?

Well, just as in taking a standardized test, we’re going to examine the month of March in light of the other possible answers. And our goal is to eliminate those that make the least sense.


October 1, 2016 – Great date for seniors taking their final test; too early for most juniors to have enough practice or experience. You already missed this opportunity!

November 5, 2016 – Still a bit early, but not a bad first test date for a junior who started prepping over the summer. You already missed this opportunity!

December 3, 2016 Favorable test date! Follows a short Thanksgiving break, perfect early test for a junior who started test prep in the late summer or early fall. Hopefully, you already took this test as your first one!

January 21, 2017 – Typically falls the same week as midterms for many students. Can be stressful academic month following the Holidays. You missed this one!

March 11, 2017 – Favorable test date! Usually follows a short mid-winter break. Students are in a good academic flow. CT public high students have the opportunity to take a March SAT test in school during the week followed by the national test center Saturday March 11th test.

May 6, 2017 – Same time as AP tests, spring tests, spring proms, spring flings, spring sports. There are just too many competing things happening at this time of the year for the test to be ideal.

June 6, 2017 – This is a Favorable test for private school students who often have a week following the end of school to do nothing but prep for this test. Public school students may find it busy with final exam prep beginning over the next week(s).

August 26, 2017 – This is likely to become a favorable and popular test for rising seniors, allowing these students an August and/or October shot.


Ok, so we’ve pretty much eliminated all but the March, June, and August test dates. So let’s get going with the upcoming March 11th test!

Mike Bergin, of Chariot Learning, wrote a recent blog titled “The Case for the March SAT’ that echoes my conclusion.1

For those who are taking the March 11th SAT, make sure that you take advantage of sitting for at least one full mock test with my group or with another testing center. Good luck!

College Board's PSAT National Percentiles

Posted on December 31, 2016 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (120)

College Board is Deliberately Misleading the Public with National Percentiles –

PSAT Scores PSAT Scores were released on December 12, 2016. Many students were delighted when they saw their scores and National Percentiles. Did you know that College Board’s “National Percentiles” are based on a fabricated population of students who are in high school and include those who never take the SAT? Did you know that College Board created this “National Percentile” definition beginning with its New PSAT in October 2015, and that these percentiles have continued to be reported this year with the New SAT and the New PSAT?

The one key difference between New SAT and New PSAT score percentiles is that College Board shows the National Percentile right next to the User Percentile in its SAT score reports. The User Percentile is nowhere to be found in the New PSAT score reports in 2016. At least they were reported in 2015! Why not now?

What are User Percentiles, and why are User Percentiles important?

User Percentiles are the standard for comparing scores between the SAT and ACT. National Percentiles are inflated percentiles. National percentiles are generally 4 to 6 percentage points higher than User Percentiles. What are User Percentiles? These are the percentiles that College Board and the ACT have historically been reporting until College Board did its revamp of the New SAT. User Percentiles are based on a real population of students who actually take the SAT or ACT. This is what makes the most sense! If you want to be able to compare your scores between the SAT and the ACT, you MUST use User Percentiles.

So why does College Board publish National Percentiles with its PSATs? It’s obvious -- the ACT surpassed College Board with the number of students taking its test in 2012. College Board is in the business of selling SATs!

If you believe that your percentiles are much higher on the PSAT than on a mock ACT you’ve taken, you’ll be duped into believing that the New SAT is a better test for you. Think again when you look carefully through these percentiles.

The type of comparison that you are really looking to do before you decide on one test or another is below.


Note this high-scoring student had a 97th percentile (National percentile) for her overall PSAT. One may falsely believe that this is equivalent to a 31.5 Composite on the ACT.


That false comparison is exactly why it is so important to go to the College Board documents and look up User Percentiles. One can even go back to concordance tables for the 2014 "old" PSAT reporting to look at equivalent percentiles. User percentiles and concorded percentiles are the best way to compare to the ACT because the percentile definitions are based on the same total population of students taking the actual tests. Note that the high-scoring student below is now similar to a 29.5 total score. Her Verbal scores, though, are really in the 78th to 84th percentiles. That's similar to a 26 on ACT Reading and 26.5 on ACT English. These are quite different from the immediate false assumption that the student's score is similar to a 31 to 32 ACT score.

Make sure that you are working with an informed test prep provider and that you do your homework!



Colleges Attended by recent tutoring students

Posted on December 31, 2016 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (80)

Here it is -- the final day of 2016!  

I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful students and their families in their testing journeys as one key part of the college application process.  I have witnessed such growth in self-confidence through our journeys.  Some families have benefited from receiving merit scholarship awards or acceptance into honor programs or other benefits from their testing results.

I so enjoy having families come back and share their college news with me.  I also enjoy re-connecting up to a year after I work with a family to learn where the student catapulted to next.  I am so grateful to learn of my students' successes and their new transitions.  BEST of LUCK to all!

Here is the College List that my tutoring students (over 90 of them!) graduating in 2015 and 2016 are attending:

Amherst College

Barnard College

Bates College

Bentley College

Boston College

Brown University

Bryant University

Bucknell University

Chapman University

Claremont McKenna College


College of Charleston

Cornell University

Dartmouth College

Dickinson College

Duke University

Fordham University

Gettysburg College

Hamilton College

High Point University

Indiana University

Ithaca College

Lehigh University

McGill University

Miami of Ohio U


Mount Holyoke

Muhlenberg College

New York University

Providence College

Roger Williams (RI)

Sewanee (TN)

Simmons College

Stetson University

Syracuse Trinity College

Tufts University

UC Berkeley


University of Connecticut

University of Delaware

University of Kansas

University of Maryland

University of Miami

University of Michigan

University of New Hampshire

University of Pennsylvania

 University of Vermont

University of Virginia

University of Southern California

UT Austin

Wake Forest

Washington & Lee

Whitworth University (WA)