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Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works

In this study, Hiss, Syverson, and Franks collected student-record level data from 28 institutions that illustrate the variety among institutions that have adopted a test-optional policy (TOP). The institutions ranged in undergraduate enrollments from 1,500 to 20,000 and 15%-90% admit rates in selectivity, and included long-time users of TOP as well as recent adopters of the policy. In most instances the authors received four cohorts of student data, in total representing a dataset of 955,774 individual applicant records.

A TOP was described by many of the admission deans of the participating institutions as a tool they employed in the hope of increasing applications from a more diverse range of students, so this report focuses great attention on traditionally under-represented populations in American higher education. To do so, the authors used record-level data to identify the intersectionality of these underserved populations: First-Generation College Bound, students from lower SES backgrounds (Pell recipients as proxy), and students from racial and ethnic groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in college populations (URM). The authors identified students associated with any of these three groups and designated them as a single category of “Expanded Diversity,” and when possible, used it in their explorations.

The experiences of institutions in this study provide evidence that the adoption of a well-executed test-optional admission policy can lead to an increase in overall applications as well as an increase in the representation of URM students (both numeric and proportionate) in the applicant pool and the freshman class. Roughly two-thirds of the study’s TOP institutions experienced URM growth above that of a matched test-requiring peer institution. A similar but smaller magnitude increase was seen among Pell recipients.

Download the report to learn more.

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