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What Test-Optional Admissions Mean For Your Institution

Jul 22, 2021 8:00:00 AM / by Adam Miller

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a growing belief among many institutions that admission test requirements create more headaches than they’re worth and do not accurately predict the academic success of students.

As a result, a growing number of institutions are implementing test-optional policies in order to provide opportunities for more students. Dropping these requirements prove to show increases in applications from racial and ethnic minority applicants, in addition to low-income students.

Creating a more equitable environment is such a priority that in a rare show of bipartisan support, the state of Illinois joined Colorado in stating that public institutions cannot require in-state residents to submit standardized test scores as part of the application process. If you’ve recently dropped your test requirements, you’ve likely seen an influx of applicants, but aren’t sure how to accommodate every student.

Here’s a rundown of how test-optional admissions work and how institutions can prepare for the future ahead.

What is test-optional admissions?

Test-optional admissions removes the standardized testing requirement from a student’s college admissions application. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate test scores from the application process, but allows students to determine how to put their best foot forward.

Institutions that are test-optional shifts the emphasis from standardized testing to the student’s overall high school experience. While students with high test scores will stand out further, it also puts the emphasis on looking at students more holistically rather than from a strictly quantitative perspective. 

While some institutions will bring tests back into their admissions decisions next year, FairTest reports that more than half of four-year colleges and universities will be test-optional for Fall of 2022. If your institution plans to make test-optional admissions permanent, it’s important to understand the impact this shift will have on admissions and adjust accordingly. 

How will test-optional enrollment affect admissions?

There’s little doubt that test-optional admissions will not only increase the total candidate pool, but also diversify the types of students that can now attend institutions which were once inaccessible. As evidenced by institutions such as Indiana University, the institution broke an enrollment record with 10,700 deposits thanks to its test-optional admissions process. According to IU, more than 40 percent of students chose not to report test scores. 

Although test-optional admissions existed originally because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is strong incentive to continue these types of programs. A number of institutions believe that there is little to no correlation between standardized test scores and academic success. In fact, some institutions note that standardized tests limit students based on race and income, as the highest scores typically come from long and expensive coaching.

Assuming that institutions continue to de-prioritize standardized testing, first-generation students are going to make up a larger percentage of the student body. Institutions will now have the ability to attract a more diverse class, but with that comes unique needs.

Institutions need to embrace the fact that no two students are alike and that more personalized support is required in order to gain a more diverse student population. And since test-optional typically means looking at other experiences more closely, institutions need to provide further guidance on what students should submit in order to enhance their application.

3 tips for successful test-optional admissions

Test-optional enrollment will create more equitable footing for students hoping to attend a college or university. But with that comes several new challenges that can set students back, if not dealt with early on. Here are three tips to ensure the students you’re trying to attract don’t fall through the cracks. 

Keep students on track

Be proactive, rather than reactive when it comes to helping students meet deadlines. Some students, especially those that are first-generation, may struggle with getting paperwork and payments submitted on-time.

Communicate deadlines from the start and nudge students along to help students feel more comfortable with the process. If students don’t have existing support from parents, they might not be familiar with the paperwork or deadlines that are required to attend an institution.

Think about communication

Test-optional admissions are likely going to be a moving target - but maintaining strong communication is key regardless of the requirements. Whether you’re opting for your institution to go test-blind and drop standardized testing completely or going the other way and want to add tests back into your admissions standards, it’s important to have the ability to communicate through multiple channels with ease.

Provide diverse learning environments

Remember that not everyone learns the same. This is especially true when you’re widening the funnel of students that are about to attend your institution.

Create equal access, both in the classroom and helping your students get the help they need. Some students are reluctant or embarrassed to ask for help publicly so create mechanisms where they can send in questions anonymously so they can get the help they need.

As institutions compete for a smaller pool of students in the coming years, it will be increasingly important for administrators to break down barriers for getting more academically-qualified students in the door. Yet COVID-19 revealed what many institutions already knew, which is that standardized tests are creating artificial barriers.

Test-optional admissions may be one of the best things to come out of the pandemic from an academic standpoint. However, these new regulations will ultimately fail without the right guard rails in place to help students become the successful, thriving individuals your institution needs for a healthy academic environment.

Adam Miller

Written by Adam Miller

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