Brief How Test-Optional College Admissions Expanded during the COVID-19 Pandemic
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An Essay for the Learning Curve
Darrell Lovell, Daniel Mallinson
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The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many colleges and universities to introduce test-optional admissions policies. Schools that adopted the policy during the pandemic did so out of precaution, but prepandemic adopters viewed test-optional admissions as a way to increase diversity and equity on campuses by removing standardized testing from the admissions process. Institutions that implemented these policies during the pandemic are more selective, less expensive, and more diverse than those that offered test-optional admissions before the pandemic. And though prepandemic test-optional adopters were mostly liberal arts colleges, the pandemic has led more public institutions with varying institutional profiles to adopt test-optional policies.

Key Numbers

  • The number of four-year universities and colleges with test-optional policies has nearly doubled from 713 to 1,350 since spring 2020.
  • Forty-seven percent, or 299, of the institutions that adopted test-optional policies during the pandemic are public institutions.
  • The average tuition of institutions that adopted test-optional policies during the pandemic is $25,256, higher than both the average tuition of institutions that did not adopt policies ($16,514) and institutions that adopted polices before the pandemic ($24,407).
  • Schools that adopted test-optional policies during the pandemic have an average admission rate of 64 percent, which is more selective than both the institutions that did not adopt policies (67 percent) and institutions that adopted polices before the pandemic (71 percent).
  • Nineteen, or 3 percent, of institutions that adopted test-optional policies during the pandemic are historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), representing 30 percent of all HBCUs.

Implications

An increasing number of more selective colleges and universities are also dropping standardized test score requirements. Prepandemic test-optional adopters have only a slightly higher selectivity rate than nonadopters, but both have a higher acceptance rate than pandemic adopters. And although the policies adopted during the pandemic were primarily implemented to keep applicants safe, maintaining a test-optional policy could increase the number of applicants from different backgrounds. The expansion of test-optional policies during the pandemic will provide more opportunities for students who are seeking to enter college without standardized test scores and could lead to a more diverse pool of applicants.

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Additional Resources

Research Areas Education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy