College Pete

Are you using a test optional strategy for college admissions? If not, maybe you should be.

Are you using a test optional strategy for college admissions? If not, maybe you should be.

Last July we told you about George Washington University’s (GWU’s) big ‘selectivity’ bet and their decision to no longer require standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) for admissions. Want to know whether the decision has ‘paid off’ for them?

Spoiler alert – it has! As we predicted in July, GWU is gonna have a MUCH lower Admit rate this year.

Well, that’s great for GW, Pete, but why should this matter to me?

Here’s why: because not only does the test-optional trend make a difference in your Admissions chances, it matters in your funding opportunities too! Sometimes in a very big, 5-figure scholarship way.

We’re continuing to see perhaps the largest migration of highly selective schools adopt test flexible practices than ever before: more than 125 private colleges listed in the US News & World Report rankings have test optional admissions.

It begs the question – why now? The educational data has always supported the the notion that there is no correlation between performance on standardized tests and ultimate success in college or life. So, what’s the urgency and real motivating force behind the test optional movement today?

One guess – it’s just business (as usual).

Take the aforementioned GW and American University (AU). Last year GW’s admit rate (a critical metric on the US News Rankings) for Fall 2015 was 46%, according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, American University, GW’s cross-town neighbor and rival boasted an unprecedented and ginormous drop in its admit rate for 2015, from 46% to 35%. Uh oh. In one year, American (which went test optional a couple of years ago) became 11 percentage points more selective (read: better) than GW.

I can only imagine the machinations amongst GW’s Board of Trustees. The only thing that surprised me about GW’s move is how long it took!

Full disclosure: I have a small horse in this race. We have a house divided – I attended GW for my MA/MBA, while Jill attended American for her MBA.

GW’s Dean of Admissions Karen Stroud Felton said all the expected things, “We had concerns that students who could be successful at GW felt discouraged from applying (my italics) if their scores were not as strong as their high school performance.”

I’m sure that’s true, but don’t kid yourself, what she meant was, “we need to grow our applicant pool”. GW made this decision so that it could attract more students to submit applications to GW, which would, in turn, lower GW’s admission rate so that it would be deemed more competitive which would increase its ranking in the US News & World Report. Period. (GW is currently ranked 57 among national universities.)

And grow their applicant pool they did! In fact, one of our former students, Courtney Rozen, a USA Today college columnist and current AU student, recently wrote an article that covered exactly what happened when GW went test optional (and alludes to what going test optional could mean for all current, and future, applicants). You can check out her full story here. 

They set a record – 25,431 applications (a whopping 28% year-over-year increase).

Now consider this: GW has the same number of spots available as they had last year. So, let’s do the math. If the number of applicants goes up by almost 30% and you accept the same number of students as you have always accepted, then what happens to your admit rate? It goes WAY down! GW’s gonna look very selective when next year’s college rankings come out!

They’re also gonna look a lot more competitive as well. You see, only students with test scores that meet or more likely, exceed, the mid-range should have submitted them this year. Therefore, GW’s midrange test score is gonna rise – potentially by quite a bit!

So by changing one admissions policy, they’ll enjoy the tremendous business benefits that come with a higher ranking in those ubiquitous rankings.

Now, what’s in it for you?

GW is now the largest private university (10,000 undergrads) to waive the standardized test requirement. Since their announcement, more schools have followed suit (the latest of which is a pretty popular, mid-Atlantic public university – The University of Delaware – where former presidential candidate Chris Christie went to school, as well as NFL quarterback Joe Flacco).

If you are a great student but don’t typically see that translate to your test scores, then you can take the pressure off – you won’t be automatically disqualified from many excellent universities as a result of your scores.

If you’re a great test taker (with any level of classroom performance), you’re likely to find that your best Institutional-based scholarship and even grant opportunities could be from the schools with test optional policies!

Which is one reason that standardized testing isn’t going away any time soon. But standardized testing policies are now like many other components of the increasingly nuanced college admissions (and financial aid) process. There are multiple confusing and disparate rules and requirements for parents and students to comprehend. Landmines and loopholes abound.

Bottom line: If you know the rules in advance, you’ll be able to bend them to your advantage.

If you don’t you could needlessly limit your options, overpay or wind up taking on more debt than you should. Quite simply, the process isn’t fair, so don’t expect fairness. Rather, you need to find the right opportunities to give your student the best advantage.


P.S. Forward this to a friend with college-bound, high school age children, they’ll thank you for it!

P.P.S. Here’s a link to Courtney’s article. Way to go, Court! :)

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