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Test-optional policies: Where we've been and what's next

February 22, 2024, By Michael Koppenheffer, Vice President, Enroll360 Marketing and Analytics

When Dartmouth University announced earlier this month that they would be resuming the requirement for standardized test scores for all undergraduate admissions, it sent a round of tremors through the world of higher education enrollment. And with Yale University following suit, the aftershocks continue to reverberate.

My EAB colleagues and I have already fielded a number of calls from enrollment leaders wondering whether these policy shifts portend a broader trend across the higher education industry, and media commentators have used the news to reflect on larger questions of educational equity and admissions fairness.

In 2020, we were on the front lines of hundreds of colleges and universities broadening their admissions requirements to allow students to apply and gain acceptance without a standardized test score. However, it had been quite some time since we took a systematic look across the Enroll360 partner base to assess the current state of testing requirements. We wanted to know: how have test-optional policies have evolved since the outset of the pandemic, and what is likely to happen next?

A Comprehensive Review of Test-Optional Policies

Our analysts combed through application marketing materials for all of our partners to identify whether emails, mailers, social media posts, or SMS messages highlighted test-optional policies. In addition, an EAB researcher performed a comprehensive review of each partners’ admissions webpages to validate whether certain partners might accept applications without test scores, even if they were not promoting test-optional policies in their outbound marketing.

  • 95%

    Of EAB Enroll360 marketing partners have posted test-optional policies.

  • 83%

    Of EAB Enroll360 marketing partners currently promote test-optional policies.

The review found that 83% of EAB Enroll360 marketing partners are currently promoting test-optional policies within their admissions application marketing emails. The review of actual admissions websites revealed even broader adoption. Based on stated policies, 95% of Enroll360 partners are allowing students to apply and gain admission without a test score.

For those of you doing the math, that also means that 12% of partners are admitting students without a test score but are not promoting their test-optional status in outbound communications. In some cases, that disparity between communications and policy exists because the test-optional policy has caveats or complications, such as being restricted to certain majors or GPA ranges, or because the institution strongly encourages test submissions even though testing is not strictly required. In other cases, there are specific institutional reasons for not communicating this information more directly to students and families.

Rapid Pendulum Swings Unlikely

Will Dartmouth’s decision, and others like it, influence a broader set of colleges and universities to change their policies again?

Our assessment is that a rapid shift back to standardized testing requirements is unlikely for most undergraduate institutions. Elite colleges like Dartmouth, which has a six percent acceptance rate for its most recent class, have a specific need for distinguishing among a surfeit of highly qualified candidates that is fundamentally different from most colleges and universities in America today. For institutions beyond the Ivy League and “Ivy-adjacent,” other indicators of ability and readiness beyond SAT or ACT scores have been serving effectively across the past several years, based on what we’ve been hearing from enrollment leaders across our partner base.

Survey of 5k Gen Z Students Highlights DEI Impact of Test-Optional Admissions

Spring Website Cleaning: Highly Recommended

Our review of today’s test optional landscape reveals a few opportunities that enrollment teams and college leaders more broadly should consider. Even in the fourth year of widespread test-optional admissions, some colleges maintain confusing and difficult-to-find policy statements on testing requirements. For many of these institutions, who have already made the decision to accept applicants without test scores, there is little downside to making test-optional policies clearer and easier to find. We recommend a “secret shopper” audit of your admissions website to ensure that prospective students can easily find and comprehend testing requirements.

In addition, some institutions are offering test-optional policies but qualifying them with a range of caveats and requirements, such as minimum GPA, geographic origin, or specific program of study. While these exceptions are understandable, their complexity could be discouraging or confusing to prospective students and families. It might be worth reconsidering whether those requirements are essential at this point, especially since the preponderance of institutions have established simpler, more clear-cut policies.

Test-Optional Admissions Rubric for Colleges and Universities


Regardless, outbound communications to prospective applicants and families during students’ senior year ought to highlight important aspects and benefits of the application process, such as the college’s willingness to consider candidates without test scores. Especially today, when most other colleges and universities are offering test-optional admissions policies, not communicating about an existing test-optional policy seems like an unnecessary roadblock in the way of encouraging students to apply—surely something no admission team desires.


Key Takeaways

  • Our review of our partners’ marketing content and posted policies shows that most institutions have embraced test-optional policies, and that is unlikely to change.
  • In the spirit of accessibility and transparency, ensure that your test-optional policies are clearly communicated.
  • We’ve found some test-optional policies to be too complex for students. We recommend removing unnecessary qualifiers where possible.
Michael Koppenheffer

Michael Koppenheffer

Vice President, Enroll360 Marketing and Analytics

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