The Test Optional Pivot, Part 2: Admission Review Without Test Scores

Pivoting to test optional admission forced the enrollment professionals at the University of Memphis to think outside the norms of its review process — a process built on expedited review.

“It’s a competitive advantage we’ve had,” said Eric Stokes, Assistance Vice Provost Strategic Enrollment Services at University of Memphis. He was participating in a panel discussion this past summer about new virtual recruitment methods during Capture’s two-day virtual conference, INNOVATE 2021. “So, we had to think about how we can continue to review students and try to maintain that accelerated decision-making process.”

Built on Sedlacek’s framework of non-cognitive variables, Memphis is creating a supplemental review questionnaire for its applicants. This allowed counselors to capture more information than they would receive normally on an application.

“That helped us with an additional review process,” he said.

Similar questionnaires and alternatives were applied to merit scholarships and English and Math placement, Stokes added. “Some of our faculty were stuck in the idea of test score placement. We had to get them to think about other ways we can place students.”

With the 2021-22 enrollment cycle underway, colleges and universities across the country are searching for concrete strategies for admission review without test scores. Some of these strategies include:

  • Essays: A long-time staple of the admission process at some institutions, these essays typically ask prospective students to write about what they would add or bring to the campus; or unique, life-changing experiences; or challenges they have overcome. Some essays ask for situational responses: How would you handle academic dishonesty from someone in your group or class? What are your career aspirations? What causes or issues are you passionate about?
  • Grades: Without standardized test scores, high school GPAs, or grades earned at another institution, might be given more weight during the admission process without standardized test scores.
  • Advanced Placement: New admission reviews may reconsider how AP courses impact a prospective student’s application.
  • Honors: Without test scores, admission teams may look closer at the honors courses taken by prospective students and/or involvement in their school’s honors program.
  • International Baccalaureate Courses: According to its mission, this enrichment option for high school students develops “internationally minded people, who recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.”
  • Letters of Recommendation: These letters typically are written by teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors, etc.
  • Interviews: These student interviews are most often done by admissions counselors but sometimes faculty will get involved.

What did we miss? What other admission review strategies can universities employ in the new test optional reality? Let us know in the comments. And if you missed it, check out Part 1 of this two-part blog series on “The Test Optional Pivot” here.

By Kevin Hyde, Senior Marketing Content Manager, Capture Higher Ed