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A look at student behavior in a test-optional world

Counselors--especially in Oregon, but anywhere--we'd like your take on this and what it means for Oregon State University and testing going forward.

On March 25, 2020 all the public universities in Oregon announced that they were permanently test optional for undergraduate admission.  This was something that was several months in the making, and almost certainly would have gone forward anyway; but the decision was made easier in light of COVID-19.  It was meaningful for me, too, as it happened on the birthday of Norman Borlaug, fellow Iowan and the person once called "the greatest human being who ever lived."  He became the face of test optional when I learned he failed his admission exam to the University of Minnesota.

I want to share a few glimpses into the application patterns for our first year students at Oregon State since then.

The view below shows all applicants. At top left, you can see counts of students who applied without tests (in orange) for 2021, 2022, and 2023 (in progress).  We are currently up about 14% in applications for Fall 2023, and by the time our February 1 deadline comes around, that number will likely grow to about 19,000 this year.  You'll note that the number of applications without tests has increased, even as the percentage (at right) decreased, based on a fairly large application growth between 2021 and 2022.

At top right, you see the breakouts of students applying with and without tests.  At the bottom, you see counts and percentages of students who applied without tests, and whether or not they sent tests anyway (this would most likely be a student who sent us the ACT or SAT as part of their free score send, and then applied without tests.)

Click on the images to enlarge.

Below is the same view, but showing only admitted students.  Note that the percentages don't change a lot between applicant and admit; tests have never been important at OSU for most students, and we are not, to use the current popular phrase, "highly rejective." 

 And finally,  the same information for enrolling students (but just 2021 and 2022, obviously.)

This has caused some people to ask why we remain test-optional instead of going test-free.  I'll admit I'm a little torn on this, and my thinking is still evolving.
One the one hand, we will consider almost anything that a student wants to send us if they're proud of the accomplishment, or they think it represents something of value to the admissions office.  And frankly, we're battling 50 years of precedent where people think a standardized test score is an academic qualification of some importance.  So, why not allow students to do so if they want?
On the other hand, I've heard from high school and independent counselors that the very act of deciding to apply with or without tests can be stressful for students.  And given what these students have been through in the last few years, that's the last thing we want.
So, a question: What do you think?  If you came here via an email link, we'd be grateful if you'd use the survey link to let us know what you think.  Otherwise, go to the survey here (note: we've closed the survey) and let us know your thoughts. While you're at it, you can update your contact information if necessary.  If not, leave a comment below, or email me by clicking here.
We look forward to hearing from our colleagues who work closely with students and parents, and, of course, we're glad to hear what you have to say about anything else, too!

Thank you.



Unknown said…
In a school as highly competitive as ours, students are overly focused on SAT/ACT scores, often to the detriment of their class grades and extracurricular involvement. I am weary of reminding students 1. their transcript is most important 2. they cannot include SAT test prep as a summer activity on their Resume. There is a culture of test score obsession, especially among parents who believe a high score is the golden ticket to the college/university of their dreams - and I am not referring to their child's dream. Brilliant students may do poorly on a standardized test while exploring their interests on a collegiate level. The unfortunate truth for our students is test optional or test free they still want to submit them. I believe SAT/ACT is a poor indicator of overall success, students are so much more than a test score.
Unknown said…
I guess my question is this. What is the retention rate for students who applied test optional compared to those who submitted a score? Did the university find those students to have the academic preparation and that the transcript was a true reflection of the student's abilities? Also, did the students who submitted a score have an advantage regarding scholarship consideration?