No Test Scores, Now What? Tips for Adjusting to Test-Optional Policies

Standardized test scores have long been a fundamental component of scholarship awarding and admissions decisions in higher education. But more and more institutions have and will adopt test-optional admissions policies.  

We gathered a panel of test-optional institutions to discuss the alternative methods they are now using to read applications and reward students in a scoreless world. If you haven’t seen the webinar, you can watch it in our Webinar Library: No Test Scores, Now What?  

Consideration Factors for Test-Optional  

The test-optional model requires schools to rethink key factors considered in student admission and scholarship eligibility. We asked our panelists what they look for as new students apply without test scores. 

At The University of Oklahoma, the rigor of students’ transcripts is now weighed more heavily than in the past. Beyond that, they are listening to what recommenders have to say about students. Kimberly West, Director of National Recruitment at OU says, “Paying attention to the details and the context that recommenders provide us has helped us make great decisions and place the student where they should be in the admissions cycle." 

Tony Sarda, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at St. Mary’s University, shared how the institution is conducting deeper contextual evaluations. They are giving more consideration to students’ intended major when reviewing transcripts.  

Sadra also underscored how important implicit bias training for the undergraduate admissions team was in the test-optional transition. He said, “It has provided an incredible amount of opportunity for us to have some kind of critical, and sometimes difficult conversations about us as readers when we're looking at students." 

For Devon Ross, Director of Undergraduate and International Admission at Augsburg University, being both test- and recommendation-optional allows the university to increase accessibility to students. In his words, "As institutions, we need to find ways to reduce barriers for prospective students."  

Reducing those barriers has helped Augsburg increase application volume, even as we see national declines.  

The New Framework of Test-Optional Recruiting  

There is a lot to consider when it comes to implementing a test-optional model across campus. Our panelists shared how becoming test-optional has impacted the recruitment and application experience.  

A common theme noted by our panelists was the ‘unlearning’ that must take place for students—and parents—who have been conditioned to believe in (and rely on) the importance of standardized tests in the college application process.  

For admissions staff at St. Mary’s University, "It's been freeing to recruit students and tell them, when we say we're test-optional, it's not a trick, it's not a game, you're not being evaluated differently. It's optional. If you don't have access to the test, if you don't have funding for the test, if you don't think you're a good test taker, or you just don't want to, you're not obligated to do it and that's perfectly fine with us." 

Leveraging New Systems of Lead Generation  

The pandemic has reduced access to sources of lead generation including those most used in higher education—standardized tests and campus visits. Now, institutions are connecting with prospective students in new ways.  

Augsburg stopped purchasing names to be more effective with their resources. As Devon described, "We felt like we were spinning our wheels and casting such a wide net to get enough of a pool.” Now they are focused on using tools that connect with the students who are more likely to apply and enroll. Partnering with RaiseMe Enrollment is one of the ways Augsburg—as well as OU and St. Mary’s—are connecting with engaged students earlier in their college search.  

As higher ed teams embrace novel approaches to increase enrollment and access for students, Student Financial Success tools are an integral piece. If your institution is considering the transition to a test-optional or test-free model, connect with us to learn how we can support the new challenges for admissions and financial aid teams.  

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