Number of college applicants sending admissions scores hasn’t rebounded, report says

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Dive Brief:

  • Far fewer first-year college applicants are providing their test scores than before the coronavirus pandemic, despite COVID-19 restrictions waning, signaling the further diminished roles exams have in admissions.
  • New data from the Common App — the online portal enabling students to apply to more than 1,000 participating colleges — shows 48% of students sent entrance exam scores with their applications as of Nov. 1. This is much less than in the 2019-20 admissions cycle, when nearly 80% of applicants offered their scores.
  • The Common App’s data shows that only 4% of institutions are requiring entrance exams in 2022-23, a decline from 55% in 2019-20.

Dive Insight:

The diminished number of applicants submitting test scores tracks with other data showing most four-year colleges aren’t requiring the SAT or ACT for admissions. 

A count by anti-assessment group FairTest found more than 1,830 institutions aren’t requiring exam results for fall 2023 admissions. Several dozen colleges have extended test-optional policies through fall 2024, it found, while nearly 1,500 are permanently test-optional or test-free

Critics of standardized assessments say they disadvantage low-income students who can’t afford the same tutoring as their affluent peers. They argue removing testing mandates would improve campus student diversity, as low-income students are more often from racial minority backgrounds.

Research has proven this to be true, though enrollment managers say test-optional rules alone won’t fix colleges’ diversity problems. 

Testing providers, the College Board and ACT, the latter of which shares the name of the exam it administers, have acknowledged educational inequities broadly but said their products are not biased. They’ve argued their tests can help talented but overlooked students stand out.

The organization only examined trends among 841 institutions that have remained participants in the Common App since 2019-20.

Its analysis shows test submissions are especially down among underrepresented minority students, first-generation students and those eligible for fee waivers, a proxy for low-income status. 

Only 39% of underrepresented minority students — defined as those who are Black, Latinx, Native American or Alaska Native, or Pacific Islander — provided test scores for 2022-23. This is 10 percentage points lower than applicants who are not underrepresented minorities. 

And 35% of first-generation students and those who qualify for fee waivers sent in their scores, versus 51% for those who did not fall into those categories.

The Common App said it will continue to monitor these trends throughout the application season.

It also shared data on applicant numbers. 

Through Nov. 1, 748,118 first-year students had applied to Common App member institutions, a sharp rise compared to pre-pandemic figures, which totaled 592,471 students in the same period for 2019-20.

More than 158,000 underrepresented minority students applied to college as of Nov. 1, a 32% increase from pre-pandemic, when nearly 120,000 of these students applied in 2019-20. 

First-generation applicants, which numbered nearly 193,000, were up by 43% from 2019-20. And fee waiver applicants, totaling nearly 168,500, were up by 54% from that year.

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