The Ivy Coach Daily

August 29, 2022

On Test-Optional Policies in Admissions


Loyal readers of our college admissions blog know where we stand on test-optional admissions policies. In spite of what many admissions officers will tell you to the contrary, all else being equal, students with great SAT or ACT scores will always enjoy an advantage over students who choose not to submit SAT or ACT scores. But, Ivy Coach, are you suggesting that admissions officers aren’t telling it like it is? That’s absolutely what we’re saying! Admissions officers are marketers for their institutions. Their goal is to inspire high schoolers to apply. After all, the more students who apply, invariably the lower the school’s admission rate will be and the higher the school will be ranked in the all-important annual US News & World Report college ranking. And haven’t we seen — this year more than most — the lengths America’s elite colleges will go to manipulate the US News rankings?

It’s not as though we’ve said that students with no SAT or ACT scores can’t get in to America’s elite universities which remain test-optional (schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University are no longer test-optional). We’ve had students get into our nation’s top colleges without test scores. But it wasn’t for lack of effort — these students tried to earn top SAT or ACT scores and just didn’t score as they’d hoped. Maybe they got sick on the test day or were a bundle of nerves. Who knows. Yet a major chunk of the students who do get in without test scores are first generation college students and/or low-income college students and/or underrepresented minorities. So for a student who does not neatly fit into any of the aforementioned categories to apply without test scores is like applying with a hand tied behind their back.

All that being said, it’s not like we’re big proponents of testing in admissions. We’re all for America’s elite colleges eliminating the SAT or ACT from the admissions process, though we do believe it offers some inherent value. Put simply, it allows admissions officers to benchmark a student from a rural high school in Nebraska against a student from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But, you see, the vast majority of America’s elite colleges have not eliminated the SAT or ACT from the admissions process. Optional is optional. Optional does not mean eliminated. Until admissions officers eliminate these tests, we do believe admissions officers will continue not to be honest and continue to offer preferential treatment to students with great test scores over students with no scores.

But maybe testing really should be eliminated. Note we said be eliminated. Not made optional. In a recent piece for Inside Higher Ed entitled “Are You Considering Test-Optional Admissions?” by Eric Maguire, the VP of Enrollment at test-optional Wake Forest University, writes, “According to a recent university report, nonsubmitters at Wake Forest are twice as likely to be first-generation college students, Pell-eligible and/or domestic students of color; in other words, some of the most underrepresented and underserved students in higher education. Perhaps that is why we see a small discrepancy in GPAs between standardized test submitters and their test-optional classmates after the first year of Wake Forest coursework, with submitters achieving an average GPA that outpaces test-optional students by 0.13 (on a 4.0 scale). The GPAs of nonsubmitters improve relative to their test-submitting colleagues in subsequent years. The differential in average cumulative GPA narrows to 0.12 after the sophomore year and shrinks to 0.06 by the end of the junior year. By the time the two groups reach graduation, test submitters have maintained their average cumulative GPA from their first year, while nonsubmitters have reduced the GPA differential to just 0.03.”

Impressive indeed! We commend Eric Maguire for releasing this data. In fact, we encourage other admissions leaders to track — and release — such data as well. Because if they do, it might lead to these colleges dropping test-optional policies altogether in favor of test-blind policies. When an elite college goes test-blind, only then can you believe that they really do mean it when their admissions officers say they don’t care about test scores. After all, then they’re showing rather than telling.

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