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Are your admission practices helping or hurting the diversity of your incoming class?

3 recommendations to make your admissions practices more equitable

April 5, 2023, By Lorianna Mapps, Senior Consultant and Principal, Enrollment Marketing Services

My previous enrollment leadership roles spanned admissions, financial aid, and advising, so I understand all too well how each phase of a student’s educational journey is impacted by policies in each of these offices.

After analyzing application trends at one of those institutions, we discovered that we had more than a pipeline problem-we had an admission problem, too. Part of the team worked to expand our recruitment pipelines and spread the word about our institution, while another team focused on yielding newly admitted students. But we realized that to further diversify our student body, we needed a better strategy somewhere in between these two enrollment phases.

You may be grappling with this same challenge and wondering how to admit and yield more underserved students regardless of the upcoming SCOTUS decision. Here are some recommendations to modify your application review process to help you enroll talented students you might currently be missing.

1. Remain test optional to maximize enrollment opportunities

Though standardized testing has been identified as one of the most significant enrollment barriers for marginalized students, many admissions practices equate these metrics to indicators of success for first-year college students. Racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in test scores have significantly impacted admission rates for lower-income, first-generation, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students for years. This is probably why institutions that have remained test-optional since 2020 continue to see applications and enrollments increase among these student populations.

Percentage of Surveyed Colleges Reporting Improved Performance1 on Selected Enrollment Metrics After Going Test-Optional

Table - Percentage of Surveyed Colleges

1Includes schools reporting “somewhat’ and “significantly” improved performance. Source: McGuire

2. Consider additional academic factors when evaluating your applicant pool

Your recruitment and marketing teams likely work to identify and engage students from a range of schools, identities, experiences, and academic interests. Are you admitting the students you discovered from those channels? If no, why not? And if so, are students from Black, Indigenous, Latinx, first-generation, and lower-income backgrounds persisting and succeeding once they get to your campus?

Academic potential is not defined by test scores. When evaluating applications, there are many academic success indicators you should consider along with grades and GPA:

Best practices for Equitably Evaluating Applications without Testing

Use contextual information when assessing applicants

Consider the opportunities available to applicants in relation to their family’s or high school’s financial resources using external data sources (e.g., high school profiles, CBO-affiliation, or national clearinghouse data).

Build assessment rubrics that account for adverse circumstances

Think about major events that may interrupt applicants’ attendance or academic performance (e.g., natural disasters, public health emergencies, or housing/employment loss).

Incorporate noncognitive variables into application assessment

Identify resilience, prioritization, and interpersonal skills that demonstrate a likelihood to persist against future academic setbacks (e.g., speaking multiple languages, balancing a job, caring for family members, or community leadership roles).

Before you change your review process or begin admitting more students from historically underrepresented populations, it’s important to assess your institution’s current track record for student success outcomes, specific to the underserved populations you want to admit. Since the Supreme Court will decide the legality of race-conscious admissions practices soon, I encourage you to identify the places where race shows up in your review process.


Test-Optional Admissions Rubric for Colleges and Universities: How to evaluate prospective students without test scores

3. Prepare your staff to look for qualitative indicators of academic potential

A closer review of applicants’ academic preparation is required to dispel myths about who can succeed at your school, but it can be challenging for application readers to uniformly adopt less quantitative evaluation practices. To break any long-standing myths or apprehension about the academic strength of lesser-known high schools, remind your application readers that unequal access to test prep is the primary cause of unequal test results.

New and returning staff members may benefit from ongoing training opportunities that expose them to student experiences beyond those of the students you typically see in your applicant pool. One way for younger, or newer, staff members to share their expertise during training is to share their journey to and through college with fellow teammates who interact with prospective students. Asking for volunteers from across the broader staff can increase feelings of belonging, connect teams that don’t often work together, and avoid over-reliance on staff members whose identities and backgrounds most closely align with the underserved students you hope to recruit.

Beyond the internal synergy this kind of training provides, clarifying how you evaluate applicants without test scores helps CBO and school counselors guide students through admissions and financial aid applications with greater success. When prospective students, and their supporters, understand the profile of students who succeed on your campus, they will be better equipped to share their success indicators via your application. However, vague descriptions of your ideals can make it more challenging to find well-aligned applicants.

Academics are foundational to a student’s college journey, but this time is also meant to help students learn new skills and perspectives that can set them up for personal and professional success after graduation. Are you prepared to identify signs of growth, curiosity, openness, and willingness to learn in your applicants?

Implementing a tailored review processes that aligns with your level of selectivity is a worthwhile investment to achieve multiple enrollment goals. Increasing the time and effort required to assess applications without testing can be daunting for institutions with thousands of applications or large incoming classes. However, embracing other student success indicators in your application review is a necessary step to remove the barriers underserved students typically face on their path to college. Whether you have relied on standardized test-scores in the admissions and scholarship review process due to concerns about college readiness, staffing limitations, or budget constraints, you can’t afford to only admit and award students with scores anymore.

Read more of our pre- and post-enrollment strategies for diversifying your student body in An Enrollment Leader’s Guide to Diversity Strategy.

Lorianna Mapps

Lorianna Mapps

Senior Consultant and Principal, Enrollment Marketing Services

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