Essay Examines Expansion of Test-optional Admissions Policies

January 28, 2022

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Title: How Test-Optional College Admissions Expanded during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Authors: Darrell Lovell and Daniel Mallinson

Source: Urban Institute

A new essay from the Urban Institute analyzes the expansion of test-optional college admissions policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authors compared nearly 1,700 colleges and universities across three groups: institutions that do not have test-optional policies, institutions that adopted these policies prior to the pandemic, and institutions that did so during the pandemic. Since spring 2020, the number of four-year institutions implementing test-optional policies has more than tripled, with public institutions making up over half (52 percent) of this group.

The authors identified three key trends:

  1. Institutions that adopted test-optional policies before the pandemic have, on average, higher tuition and fees than pandemic- and non-adopting institutions. While tuition differences between adopters and non-adopters are still large, circumstances created by the pandemic improved access to institutions with test-optional admissions policies.

  2. Greater admissions selectivity exists among pandemic-adopting institutions (64 percent) compared to pre-pandemic adopters (68 percent) and institutions that have not adopted test-optional policies (69 percent). Many of the institutions that adopted test-optional policies during the pandemic because they were not able to consider testing scores. The data suggest that test-optional policies have not necessarily made it easier to gain admission.

  3. Three percent of institutions that adopted test-optional policies during the pandemic are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). About 30 percent of the HBCUs included in the data set now implement a test-optional admissions policy.

The authors acknowledge that while the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 led many institutions to implement test-optional policies, maintaining these policies moving forward could increase access to more selective institutions and could more applicants from diverse backgrounds.

Click here to read the full essay and explore the data.

—Danielle Melidona

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