The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No test scores? No problem: Applications surge after GW goes test-optional

George Washington University. (Photo by Mary F. Calvert For The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Applications to George Washington University surged 28 percent in the first admission cycle after the school stopped requiring prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores.

GW officials said Thursday they received 25,431 bids for the entering 2016 class, up from 19,833 last year. About one out of every five applicants chose not to submit test scores.

Under its test-optional policy, the private university in Washington said it has drawn more African-American and Latino applicants and more applicants whose parents did not go to college. Applications from these “first-generation” students grew from more than 3,000 in the previous cycle to more than 4,000 in this one, officials said.

Raising interest in GW from disadvantaged students was one of the university’s key goals when it moved to test-optional admissions in July.

GW drops requirement applicants to send SAT or ACT scores

“We adopted our test-optional policy to strengthen and diversify an already outstanding applicant pool by reaching out to exceptional students who have been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities,” GW President Steven Knapp said in a statement. “These initial results suggest that our efforts are on the right track.”

GW, with more than 25,000 students, is the largest university in the nation’s capital. It also is one of the most prominent universities to go test-optional since Wake Forest, in North Carolina, did so in 2008. GW ranks 57th on the U.S. News & World Report list of national universities, tied with the University of Maryland and two others. Wake Forest ranks 27th.

U.S. News ranking trends in 2015

The vast majority of highly selective colleges and universities still require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, and some of the ultra-selective schools also require or strongly recommend further scores in subject tests.

But hundreds of schools do not require test scores. Those who track test-optional policies at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing say the movement has grown significantly in recent years. Among the schools that now do not require test scores are Brandeis, Wesleyan, Temple, Virginia Commonwealth, American and Catholic universities.

Some test-optional schools add caveats. VCU, for example, requires applicants to have a minimum 3.3 grade-point average if they do not submit test scores. It also requires test scores from students who wish to contend for merit scholarships or apply to VCU’s honors college or school of engineering.

Numerous liberal arts colleges also are test-optional, including Smith, Kalamazoo, Allegheny, Pitzer, Bates and Bowdoin.

Laurie Koehler, GW’s vice provost for enrollment management and retention, said she has heard anecdotally that the test-optional policy is drawing some applicants to GW who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered to apply.

Growing the applicant pool is just a first step, Koehler said: “Now we have to admit and yield a class.”

The target is to have 2,500 to 2,600 entering freshmen. “The bottom line is, we want to enroll a more diverse class moving forward,” she said.

Read more:

Bombed the SAT or ACT? Here are ‘test-optional’ colleges

Inside the admissions shop at GW: How they get to yes, no or maybe