- Only a small fraction of the colleges that accept the Common Application required first-year undergraduates to submit admissions exam scores during the 2021-22 season, showing the degree to which test-optional policies proliferated even as the pandemic's immediate disruptions eased.
- Just 5% of roughly 900 colleges that are members of the Common App, the online application portal, mandated test scores, falling from 11% in the 2020-21 admissions year, according to a new report. Previously, more than half of Common App members required scores.
- The share of applicants submitting test results increased slightly, from 49% in the 2020-21 year to 53% in 2021-22. The Common App's report covers application data through mid-November.
The Common App's data offers fresh insight into test-optional admissions trends that became nearly ubiquitous early in the pandemic.
After the coronavirus shut down sites where students typically take the SAT and ACT, colleges answered by removing score requirements, albeit some temporarily. Testing experts predict, however, that many of these policies will remain as the health crisis subsides.
This year's slight bump in applicants reporting test scores partially reflects better access to testing sites, according to the Common App. But it could also suggest "applicants are calibrating their application strategies as test-optional policies become more familiar."
The Common App's data shows first-generation and underrepresented minority students are less likely than others to submit scores. The Common App classifies underrepresented minority students as those who are Black or African American, Latinx, Native American or Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.
About 40% of first-generation students provided test scores versus 58% of their peers in the 2021-22 admissions year. Similarly, 44% of underrepresented applicants submitted scores compared to 56% of students not classified as underrepresented.
This lends credence to the argument that test-optional admissions can help attract more applicants from these groups. Opponents of entrance exams say they exacerbate barriers for historically disadvantaged groups to apply to college. Testing providers have acknowledged inequities in American education but maintain their products are not racist.
Recent patterns in the sector signal strong headwinds for testing companies.
The University of California system this month indicated it would abandon admissions tests permanently. The ACT said in response that forgoing use of assessments would introduce "greater subjectivity and uncertainty into the admissions process."
ACT also said the system's decision would worsen inequities and "dim the prospects" for underrepresented students to attend UC institutions.
Research has shown test-optional admissions result in modest improvements in student body diversity.
The Common App's new report also may provide colleges with a reason for optimism amid widespread undergraduate enrollment declines in the last two years. After "delayed application activity" during the pandemic's early months, application submissions rose significantly in the 2021-22 year, according to the Common App.
Through Nov. 16, the Common App recorded almost 3.1 million applications for the 2021-22 season. This was a major boost from the slow start of the 2020-21 year, with 2.6 million applications during the same time period last year. The number of applicants also increased in the most recent period, rising from just under 700,000 last year to more than 780,000.
Applications to public institutions drove most of this year's increase. The share of international and low-income applicants also was higher.