The Truth Behind Test-Optional

Test Optional Colleges, Test Optional Schools, Test Optional Universities

Ivy Coach salutes Stephen Burd for what we believe to be the best piece of journalism on college admissions of 2015.

We came across a phenomenal piece of journalism on college admissions that we wanted to share with our loyal readers. It’s a piece written by Stephen Burd for “The Hechinger Report” and it’s entitled “The real reason that colleges go ‘test-optional.’” And if you are a regular reader of our college admissions blog, you know that we don’t use the word ‘phenomenal’ lightly. But this piece deserves our praise because Mr. Burd, through the analysis of data, calls test-optional colleges on their PR spin. Test-optional colleges, after all, profess to be test-optional because they want to appeal to a more diverse applicant pool. They want to attract students from all different cultures, of all different ethnicities, of all different socio-economic backgrounds and not requiring the SAT or ACT helps them do just this. Right?

Wrong. Let’s take George Washington University, a school that has gone test-optional. Here’s what Burd writes: “But is increasing socioeconomic and racial diversity really the university’s motivation in making this change? Or does it have a less altruistic reason for doing so, such as raising its standing in the all-important college rankings game? We don’t know for sure. But a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia suggests that we should not take G.W. at its word. The researchers examined U.S. Department of Education data at 32 selective liberal arts colleges that have adopted these policies and found ‘that test-optional policies overall have not been the catalysts of diversity that many have claimed them to be.’ The study did not find any evidence that test-optional colleges had made ‘any progress in narrowing these diversity-related gaps after they adopted test-optional policies.’ Instead, these policies had benefited these colleges ‘in more institution-promoting ways.'”

Indeed when a college goes test-optional, they now can attract a whole new applicant pool. They can attract many more students to apply, boosting their “US News & World Report” ranking and invariably lowering their admission rate. As we’ve said for years and years, colleges care about their “US News & World Report” ranking first and foremost. No matter what their PR spin may be. In Mr. Burd’s own words: “Colleges have used these policies to become even more exclusive than they previously were. Here’s how schools do it: by freeing prospective students from having to provide SAT and ACT scores, they tend to attract more applicants, many of whom may have scored poorly on the tests. (The University of Georgia study found that these schools ‘receive approximately 220 more applications, on average, after adopting a test-optional policy.’) For the colleges, more applicants mean more students they can reject, which lowers their acceptance rate and raises the institution’s perceived selectivity.”

Well said, Mr. Burd. Well said. Colleges may profess to have altruistic intentions, but their motives are often more calculating. And one motive common to all highly selective and selective colleges is that they want to improve in the rankings. Whether they tell you this or not. And we promise they won’t tell you this…

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