These 5 universities, colleges push test-optional past 2023

The University of Kentucky became the latest to extend leeway to future students on the inclusion of standardized test scores during the application process.
By: | March 11, 2021
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More than 1,700 colleges and universities have chosen to take a more “holistic approach” to admissions – some before and some during the COVID-19 pandemic – by assessing all student achievements and giving them the choice of submitting SAT and ACT test scores.

Though scores of institutions have decided through the years to make test-optional a permanent solution, many others have been kicking the tires on what to do beyond the current admissions cycle. Ivy League schools and others such as Emory University, Fordham University and Harvey Mudd College have chosen to remain in that status through the fall 2022 cycle. Drexel, Elon, Case-Western Reserve and the University of Maryland, among others, are experimenting with test-optional through 2023-24.

And there are a handful that have chosen to go a bit further, admitting they also will reevalute the value of including standardized scores in the future.

The University of Kentucky on Wednesday became one of those institutions to extend its test-optional policy beyond 2023 to 2024-2025. It joined Babson College in Massachusetts and Bucknell University in Pennsylvania as giving students through the fall 2024 admissions cycle to not include scores in their requirements for admission. The University of Oklahoma extended its policy through 2025, while Seton Hall University lengthened it to 2026, the longest of any non-permanent policies.

“We recognize that standardized tests are not always the best indicator of student performance and we wanted to offer the many gifted, hard-working students the ability to access a Seton Hall education,” said Alyssa McCloud, Seton Hall Senior Vice President of Enrollment Management.

For Kentucky’s Office of Enrollment Management and others, there are several reasons for the extensions – many well-publicized – including the lack of access students have to testing, the inability to get instructional help prior to the challenging exams and the potential barriers for those from low-income and underserved communities.

“By approving now, we are able to announce our intentions early to prospective students,” said Christine Harper, UK associate vice president for enrollment management. “We want to support an accessible option for students dealing with a substantial number of external forces resulting from the pandemic — forces such as access to testing, college going support and family financial strain.”

The choice to go test-optional

Like many universities, UK recognized the challenges not only in forcing students to submit their scores during the pandemic but the risks it could pose to enrollment at their institutions. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center noted a more than 12% decline in freshman enrollment in a report in December 2020. And according to a recent study from the Princeton Review, students said the most stressful part of the application process was taking standardized tests.

By evaluating students on other factors, the hope is that students will be more receptive to applying to institutions, knowing that a single test score won’t potentially disqualify them from entry.

Drexel is one university that saw the positive impact of alleviating that stressor for students, so it decided to extend being test-optional through the 2023 cycle.

“I am happy to report that this initiative proved to be highly successful; our new policy served to help maintain a high quality of applicant submissions and provided increased access for underrepresented populations, despite the wide variety of obstacles students faced when attempting to complete their traditional prerequisites,” Evelyn Thimba, Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management, said in a recent letter to the Drexel community. “We are confident that this extension will continue to provide much-needed support to students and their families in navigating the college admissions process, while ensuring the University remains positioned to attract and enroll students that meet or exceed the standard of quality we have come to expect.”

Kentucky says it is evaluating students on “the rigor of high school coursework, activities and engagement outside the classroom as well as a written essay.” For those who do want to include scores, UK is factoring them in but will not solely determine entry on those scores. In addition, the university says it will make scholarship opportunities available to all students, with or without test score inclusion.

After responding during the pandemic to make test scores optional, the University of Oklahoma opted to extend its policy for four more years.

“Looking to the future, we view operating as a test-optional institution as a necessary and important move to increasing access to the state’s flagship institution, and this pilot program allows for that consideration,” said Jeff Blahnik, executive director for the Office of Admissions and Recruitment. “Test scores can be a helpful tool in determining readiness, but they are not the only measure that projects that. Students come to the table with different strengths and, to be a great institution, we need to identify students who show academic promise and who will enrich our OU Family.”