Why Are Colleges Adopting Test-Optional Policies?

Test-optional policies have swept the higher education system in the United States as of late. A test-optional policy is where a college applicant has the option of adding a test score to be considered with their application. Before COVID-19, many colleges had already begun the adoption of test-optional; once the pandemic started, however, it became clear that standardized testing served as a barrier to many students. Luther College passed a new test-optional policy in early summer 2020, and it was put into effect for the 2020-21 academic year.

Our Admissions team at Luther began researching how to implement a test-optional policy a few months ago. The initial research indicated that test scores were a barrier to many students. A 2018 study, Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works, indicates that a test-optional policy establishes a more equitable admissions process for all students. The study results included several key findings that influenced Luther’s decision:

  • Test scores did not necessarily indicate college success, and a student’s high school GPA was a much better predictor
  • ACT and SAT did not prove to be a student “equalizer” or a true test of academic ability
  • Test-optional creates a more equitable admissions process, especially to underrepresented students who may not have access to the same resources as others

Ultimately, the goal of going test-optional is to remove an unnecessary barrier for students. While other schools have added an extra requirement in lieu of a test score (an additional essay, interview, etc.), Luther decided not to add any additional element to the application.

At Luther, we are adjusting our admissions process to accommodate our test-optional applicants. The process for academic scholarships will look nearly identical to when a test score was considered, and all students will still receive academic scholarships upon an admissions decision. Other colleges and universities have shifted their review process as well.

As Luther moves forward in the 2020-21 school year, students will have the option to submit their test score with their application. If they feel that their score is not representative of their ability or they cannot secure a time to take an ACT or SAT test due to COVID-19, they have the ability to not include a score. Luther is excited to begin reviewing applicants for Fall 2021!