Considering Going Test Optional?

Erika S. Veth, EdD
Millennium Computer Systems, Ltd.
July 22, 2020

I’m not going to lie, when the Director of Admissions first proposed the idea of moving toward test optional admissions at my former university, I was skeptical. I was new to my role as AVP of Strategic Enrollment Management, and none of the other public universities in the state had moved fully toward test optional admissions. At first glance, the use of the term “test optional” seems almost to suggest complacency when it comes to academic quality. Without prior research it’s easy to initially interpret “test optional” to mean “if you did poorly on your college prep tests, we are going to look the other way.” However, test optional actually has the potential to boost retention and graduation rates.

Therefore, before saying no, we gathered more information. In collaboration with others at the institution, we were able to retrieve the SAT/ACT scores, GPA, and courses transferred for students who began at our university as freshmen over the last five years. A clear pattern began to emerge. Regardless of SAT and ACT scores, students who had better core GPAs in high school, and students who took more advanced math and lab science courses, were more likely to graduate, graduate on time, and they were less likely to stop-out during their junior year—our identified retention bleed year. They were also more likely to pass college math–something many institutions struggle with when it comes to college freshmen.

This didn’t mean we planned to discount SAT/ACT for those who did well and would prefer to submit them, but the data was clear enough to warrant moving toward test optional admissions admissions. I felt confident that for the most part, students with high core (excluding electives) GPAs were going to do just fine regardless of their test scores. In fact, these students could help us to boost our lagging retention and graduation rates, and going test optional had the added benefit of recruiting to retain. Additionally, mounting evidence nationally shows that test optional opens access for underrepresented students who may not have the same access to supplemental college test preparation practices like tutoring and extracurricular courses. A 2018 study of 28 colleges and universities found that “institutions going test optional tended to see increases in applications, a more diverse pool of applicants, and greater diversity in enrolled students. And. . . those who do not submit test scores graduate at the same or higher rates than do other students” (Jaschik, 2018, par. 2).

If your college or university is considering going test optional, be sure to gain buy-in from all stakeholders because this type of change will impact operational staff, advisors, faculty, and prospective students. It is normal for the initial feedback from others to echo my initial reaction: skepticism and more than a little resistance. Of course, the foundation of most public universities is shared governance, so navigating change through the proper channels should help you make your case. My advice is to present the newly revised test optional admissions standards and relevant data to the appropriate committees and councils comprising faculty and operational staff, department chairs and deans, and executive staff. At my former institution, after quite a few months of campaigning, Faculty Senate voted in favor of the change and the Provost and President endorsed the change shortly thereafter.

Any institution that collects application information that can integrate with their SIS/ERP systems can use FAST Student to collect current and applied student graduation, retention, GPA, and test score information. In fact, not only does FAST allow for premier reporting in multiple shareable formats like PDF and Excel, but within the Student application, it is possible to build dashboards to monitor how your institution progressing towards related benchmarks and goals.

If you are interested in learning more about how FAST Student can help your college or university decide whether or not test optional admissions practices are the right move, reach out to us today for a demo at erika@mcsl.com or customersupport@mcsl.com.