Last week the admissions office at Case Western Reserve University announced that the university would offer test-optional admissions for the next admissions cycle. This will benefit high school juniors who might be considering the school for their lists next fall. Their opportunity to take the ACT or SAT has been put on hold for the spring. Oregon State University’s admissions office has made a similar decision. So has Indiana University.
But could other schools follow, go test optional, and continue to be after the next cycle?
Case Western Reserve made an interesting decision. But I’m not sure that they’ll be test optional for more than one cycle. Given Case’s student body size, and that it has undergraduate business and engineering schools, it is most similar to Carnegie Mellon, Lehigh, Tulane and Washington University in St. Louis, all of which have lower acceptance rates.
Since the 2012-13 cycle Case has become an increasingly selective school. Back then Case accepted 42 percent of the students who applied to join the freshman class. They had 18,400 applications for 1,250 seats. The average ACT Composite was a 31. I used the ACT instead of the SAT. The ACT has been the more consistent test in its design. Then in 2015-16, Case’s average ACT Composite rose by one point to a 32. They had over 23,000 applications for 1260 seats. Thirty-five percent of the interested freshmen got in. Case’s acceptance rate went down from 33 to 29 to 27 percent for the next three cycles, according to the university’s institutional research. The applicant volume rose from 25,400 to 26,600 to 28,800. There were 1360 seats, ninety more than in 2015-16. The average ACT Composite is still a 32.
Case has a problem that other selective schools don’t face: a low yield rate. The university’s admission office has done a great job at attracting more interest and applicants. But only 17 percent of the students who got in last cycle decided to come. From 2012-13 until 2018-19, Case has not gotten more than 18 percent of the accepted students to deposit. The low yield rate means that Case has not been the first choice school for most of the students who were accepted. Most admissions offices want to find a larger number of qualified people who are more likely to enroll. Case might find them by going test optional.
Case has not announced an alternative to submitting test scores for those who might want to apply test optional. Other schools, Temple one example, ask students to write additional essays. Other schools will place more emphasis on the transcript or demonstrated talents. But its fair to predict:
Chances are the excellent student who is one or two points away on the ACT and demonstrates why Case is a top choice could have a better shot. My advice to that student: apply ED, if the finances work. Do the best possible job to show why you want to be a Spartan. And, if you don’t like writing essays, chances are you will be denied. They become a more important consideration in your application when you do not submit scores.
But what about other schools that are less selective than Case?
For other schools, like Indiana or Oregon State, it’s different. They already accept the vast majority of their applicants, though some academic programs are more selective. They each get more than a third of their students from other states. Most applicants do not need to write more than one essay. The neighboring states Illinois and California, have exceptionally selective flagship state schools. Those flagships cannot take every resident who wants to come.
Going test optional will probably be for the long term, not to be more selective, but to cast a wider net. Indiana and Oregon State are not the only schools of any size reaching out to Illinois and California residents. Those kids are being recruited from all over. When you’re a flagship in a Power Five sports conference you have the advantages of name recognition and a large alumni base.
Many private liberal arts colleges have had success with test-optional admissions, and likely more will follow. Less selective schools, even those that currently require test scores, look for reasons to admit. Chances are that the success rates of the admitted students who come will be about the same, as will their grades, though acceptance rates could go down. The same is true for regional public colleges that must attract more applicants to fill a class. The University System of Georgia has decided to go test optional at its regional schools for the current cycle. This may prove to be a wise decision for regional public colleges that already know their markets and feeder high schools well.
The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for classes to take place and for students to participate in extracurricular activities. College admissions offices will likely be more forgiving about extracurricular programs that usually take place face to face. But they will expect prospective students to take on academic challenges, at least in the subjects of most interest, and conquer them. Every college wants to admit students who can succeed in their classrooms, even when admissions are test optional.
Update on March 24th: Scripps College (CA) and Tufts University have also announced intentions to launch test-optional admissions for the next cycle!
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