A year after switching to a test-optional admissions policy, George Washington University said this week that its latest freshman class is the most racially diverse in the school’s history.
GW, the largest university in the District of Columbia, has in the past several years sought to shed its image as a school for rich white students.
The private university, with about 26,000 students, announced in July 2015 that it would no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. GW officials said at the time that they feared the testing requirement was hindering their ability to recruit a diverse class.
They say the switch paid off. The share of students who are underrepresented minorities and whose parents are not college graduates rose in the Class of 2020. At the same time, the median grade-point average of incoming students edged upward, to 3.66 from 3.64.
“We adopted our test-optional policy to 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. “Our experience this first year under the new policy would seem to validate that approach.”
Of 2,523 freshmen, the African American share was 8.8 percent, up from 4.7 percent in the previous class. The Hispanic share climbed to 10.5 percent, from 9.2 percent the year before.
GW also said the share of first-generation college students in the freshman class rose to 13.9 percent, from 11.9 percent, and the share who have enough financial need to qualify for federal Pell grants rose to nearly 15 percent, up a percentage point.
The school’s tuition and fees this year total $51,950, not counting room and board. But more than 60 percent of GW students receive grants and scholarships, reducing the price for many by tens of thousands of dollars a year.
When it went test-optional, GW joined Wake Forest and Brandeis universities in the small group of schools ranked among the nation’s top 100 research universities that do not require test scores. Test-optional policies are somewhat more common among liberal arts colleges.
Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, an organization that supports test-optional policies, said that more than 900 colleges and universities now make admissions decisions on many or all of their applicants without looking at test scores.
“We’ve consistently said that test-optional policies are win-wins for schools and applicants,” Schaeffer said. “And the new data from George Washington provides strong evidence for that claim.”
The majority of the nation’s selective colleges and universities still require test scores. Millions of students take the ACT, the SAT — or both — each year. Testing officials say scores, in combination with transcripts, can provide useful information to admission officers who must sift through thousands, or tens of thousands, of applications.
Most of GW’s applicants still do send test scores. Of about 25,000 applicants for the freshman class, 21 percent applied without submitting scores, the university said.
The test-optional policy is not the university’s only strategy for diversifying. It also partners with the nonprofit Say Yes to Education foundation to offer major scholarships to public high school students in New York and North Carolina from low-income families, and it has other outreach programs to expand access for disadvantaged students from Atlanta, the District and elsewhere.
Laurie Koehler, GW’s vice provost for enrollment management and retention, said the university must focus on ensuring that these students thrive. About 83 percent of freshmen at GW graduate within six years of enrolling, according to federal data. But the graduation rates are lower for some minority groups: 77 percent for Hispanic students and 73 percent for African Americans.
“Now that we are enrolling more diverse and academically talented students, our next steps are to make sure that these students find success at GW and beyond,” Koehler said.