Test-optional admissions: A year hence

If you’re a visitor to this site, you know about DePaul University’s decision to become test-optional for freshman admission.  With just a few days to go before our final, official count of freshmen (the fall census), the results from our first admissions cycle are interesting:

  • About ten percent of all applicants applied as test-optional
  • About three percent of all admits applied as test optional
  • Just under five percent of all enrolling students applied as test optional

As one faculty member put it, “So this wasn’t such a big deal, then.”  To which I politely replied, “Well, I hate to say I told you so…” (and of course, I love to say “I told you so.”)

Taking both a higher view of, and making a deeper dive into the data suggests some responses to our early critics:

  • This was a record year for applications to the freshman class
  • It will be the largest freshman class in history; we had predicted our yield to go down, but it actually stayed exactly even with last year (22.9%)
  • The average GPA of enrolling students is at its highest point ever
  • Even once we add in the test scores of the students who applied test-optional (we are collecting them for research purposes) this year’s ACT average will be at a record level (or on par with last year, if not quite a record)

In short, those people who believe a test-optional approach stains our academic reputation seem to have little evidence to back that stance up.

When you start sorting out the test-optional applicants, however, some more interesting patterns emerge:

  • Just under half were White
  • At every High School SES (Socioeconomic Status) band, the test-optional students had higher GPA’s than their counterparts who submitted test scores.  For the students from the lowest SES Schools, the average GPA was a hair under 4.0 (adjusted to fit on a 4.0 scale)
  • Their ACT Scores were as high as 29
  • 35% came from the top 1/8 of the High School Graduating Class; among low SES Schools, this number was 71%
  • Almost 60% came from the highest third of SES High Schools
  • They were distributed mostly toward the middle of our overall academic distribution: Not the superstars, but clearly not the last ones admitted to the class, either.

Now some important research begins: We’ll carefully track the progress of these students as a group, but also individually to see if they progress toward graduation in ways that other students like them (test scores, GPA, strength of curriculum, family income, first-generation status, or ethnicity) do.  Based on results at other universities who have done this, we’re confident those results will be good; if not, we’ll figure out where the gaps are and respond appropriately.

All told, this has been a liberating year after almost 30 years of doing admissions and enrollment work; doing this research, connecting with other people who feel the same, and just thinking about students in more dimensions has been quite a boost.

We’re not out to change the world, but to maybe make opportunity for kids who otherwise might not have thought it possible.  Maybe one of them will end up changing the world.  As with everything, time will tell.

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