The Fable of Test-Optional
Curious if students who submit test scores to test-optional schools enjoy an advantage over students who don’t submit test scores? In the words of the gatekeepers at many highly selective institutions, students who don’t submit scores to test-optional schools enjoy no such advantage. In fact, when we suggested in a piece in The Daily Pennsylvanian that, all else being equal, students with great scores do enjoy an advantage over students who don’t submit scores, we were attacked on the listserv of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, an organization to which we are a member. How dare we question the word of admissions officers! How dare we not accept what they say as the gospel! But accept it as the gospel we did not. After all, admissions officers at America’s elite universities once claimed not to have Jewish quotas. They sure did have Jewish quotas. And it’s not as though the untruths they espoused are chapters back in the history books. So many admissions officers still claim that legacy candidates enjoy a negligible advantage. So many claim to not factor in a student’s family’s ability to pay full tuition. So many claim not to discriminate against Asian American applicants. Read the transcript of the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University trial. The truth came out. Which all leads us to…has the truth yet come out on whether or not students with test scores enjoy no advantage over students who don’t submit scores?
The Truth Has Come Out on Test-Optional Admissions
Yes, the truth has indeed come out — boy has it ever! Here’s the truth, in the language released by the schools:
|College/ University||Admission Rate for Students Who Submitted Test Scores||Admission Rate for Students Who Did Not Submit Test Scores|
|Boston College||61% of accepted students submitted test scores|
|California Institute of Technology|
|Carnegie Mellon University|
|Claremont McKenna College|
|Duke University||44% of applicants did not submit standardized exam scores|
|Emory University||69% of admitted students did submit scores||About 50% of all applicants did not submit test scores|
|Georgetown University||10.8% of Early Action admits who submitted scores earned admission||7.34% of Early Action admits who did not submit scores earned admission|
|Haverford College||Nearly 60% chose to omit their test scores|
|Johns Hopkins University|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|New York University|
|Pomona College||57% of newly admitted students submitted a standardized test score|
|Rice University||20% did not submit SAT or ACT scores with their applications|
|Swarthmore College||47% did not submit scores|
|University of California, Berkeley|
|University of California, Los Angeles|
|University of California, San Diego|
|University of Chicago|
|University of Michigan|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill|
|University of Notre Dame||Among the total applications, 51% submitted a test||31% of Early Action students did not have a test score; 34% of applicants were admitted without a test score In the total number of applications; 49% chose to be test-optional|
|University of Pennsylvania||66% of Early Decision applicants submitted scores, 75% of Early Decision applicants who earned admission submitted scores|
|University of Southern California|
|University of Virginia|
|Vanderbilt University||56.3% of Vanderbilt applicants voluntarily submitted test scores, and 61.1 % of admitted students applied with test scores|
|Villanova University||More that 50% did not submit scores|
|Wake Forest University|
|Washington University in St Louis|
|Wellesley College||Approximately 60% of applicants chose not to submit test scores, and about half of the admitted students did not submit SAT or ACT scores|
|Wesleyan University||59% of admits asked to have test scores considered in the admission process|
Most Elite Colleges Are Concealing Data on the Percentage of Students Who Got In With and Without Scores
But note how most of the chart above is blank. We would argue the blank boxes are the single most telling data point of all. After all, most highly selective universities are cryptically — and unsurprisingly — not releasing the percentage of students admitted with and without scores. As an example, Duke University recently bragged that 44% of applicants didn’t submit test scores but the school didn’t release the all-important figure of the percentage of students admitted without test scores. Of the few elite universities that have released such data — you’ll note most don’t include such pertinent information in their press releases about their incoming classes at least as of the time of this publication — the numbers point to the significant advantage students with test scores enjoy in admissions. As an example, at the University of Pennsylvania, about 66% of Early Decision applicants to its Class of 2025 submitted test scores. And about 75% of Early Decision applicants who earned admission submitted test scores. So students who submitted test scores to UPenn this past Early Decision cycle held a statistically significant advantage in the admissions process over those who did not. As another example, at Georgetown University, 7.34% of Early Action applicants to the Class of 2025 who did not submit test scores earned admission. This compares to Georgetown’s 10.8% overall Early Action admit rate for the Class of 2025.
Note the Freudian Slips of Admissions Officers on the Topic of Test-Optional Admissions to Press Outlets
And if you don’t think the numbers tell the story, take a look at some of the Freudian slips admissions leaders have made to press outlets in recent weeks, highlighted by the gem Cornell University’s Vice Provost for Enrollment Jonathan Burdick offered to The New York Times. In a piece entitled “Interest Surges in Top Colleges, While Struggling Ones Scrape for Applicants,” Amelia Nierenberg writes, “Prestigious universities like Cornell never have a hard time attracting students. But this year, the admissions office in Ithaca, N.Y., is swimming in 17,000 more applications than it has ever received before, driven mostly by the school’s decision not to require standardized test scores during the coronavirus pandemic. ‘We saw people that thought ‘I would never get into Cornell’ thinking, ‘Oh, if they’re not looking at a test score, maybe I’ve actually got a chance,’” said Jonathan Burdick, Cornell’s vice provost for enrollment.” Oh, Mr. Burdick, who ever would have given these applicants the crazy idea that they had an equal chance of admission without test scores? Yet it’s not like Mr. Burdick is the only admissions leader with loose lips. In a recent CNN piece by Yon Pomrenze and Bianna Golodryga entitled “College applications in pandemic year show deepening inequities in access to higher education,” NYU’s admissions leader offers a most interesting quote. As CNN reports, “‘You might find more students applying to an Ivy League or a school like NYU because they feel like they have a chance (now that test scores are optional),’ says MJ Knoll-Finn, senior vice president for Enrollment Management at New York University.
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Without having the applicants file in front of you, it is difficult to discern if a lack of scores hurt applicants in the admissions process, whatsoever- or that the applicants were just flat-out weaker candidates. It is highly likely that those not submitting scores ARE INDEED a weaker pool of candidates overall. In fact, most were probably helped out- not hurt- by not submitting test scores. Take Vandy, for instance, there certainly is not an appreciable difference between those who were admitted to Vandy without scores compared to those who were admitted with them. This is an unscientific survey. I have seen admitted students to UCHICAGO, for example, state they were helped a great deal by not submitting scores and that their scores were hundreds of points lower than stated averages there. The problem with this test-free policy that the Coach fails to cite is that schools are admitting some students who clearly do not have the scholastic aptitude commensurate with their classmates to compete on a rigiorous level and may need significant assistance to get through or have emotional distress that requires psychiatric help for their welfare and even safety. Of course this would not be all candidates, but a sizable portion will be greatly affected.
your numbers are actually likely worse than it seems. What percent of recruited athletes submitted test scores? probably a lot.
So when you subtract out recruited athletes, legacy, donors etc… probably even bigger advantage to submit good scores.