DePaul has long been committed to providing opportunities to students who might not otherwise have access to a quality education. Whether it is students of color, first-generation students or other students underrepresented in higher education, DePaul prides itself on creating pathways for highly motivated students. In 2012, DePaul’s Enrollment Management and Marketing (EMM) opened more doors when it made the strategic decision to offer test-optional admission.
Test-optional was not implemented to supplement a middling application pool; it was introduced at a time of unprecedented freshman application growth and the strongest freshman academic profile in DePaul’s history. It was not offered simply to strengthen diversity; DePaul is already one of the most diverse institutions of its caliber in the nation. The rationale was much simpler: fairness. By offering test-optional admission, DePaul elevated the best criteria for evaluating student potential: high school performance in a rigorous, college-preparatory program.
This approach is grounded in research. While critiques against standardized tests have become more prominent (scores do not predict retention or graduation, are strongly correlated with family income and vary dramatically across racial/ethnic groups, to name three), institutional experience was critical. In 2008, DePaul laid the groundwork for test-optional admission by introducing “noncognitive variables” in the admission process. Based on the research of Dr. William Sedlacek, students respond to open-ended essays designed to elicit evidence of characteristics in key areas that predict success in college, providing vital information to supplement their high school records. Based on the success of this project, test-optional was a natural progression.
DePaul is not the first university to introduce test-optional admission; many great institutions have paved the way. However, DePaul is one of the largest, proving test-optional is scalable. By introducing test-optional, DePaul hopes to shine a brighter light on a process that will provide opportunities for more high-quality students to pursue their educational dreams.
For more information, visit our test-optional website or contact Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for EMM, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who might benefit from test-optional admission?
The kinds of students who may benefit from this admission alternative include students whose first language is not English; students who are first in their families to attend college; and students who do not have unfettered financial access to test preparation, coaching and multiple test-takings. Experience shows that many of these students do very well at DePaul when given the opportunity if there is evidence of their ability to succeed academically in high school.
This new approach seeks to encourage a wider range of high-achieving students to consider a four-year degree at DePaul, including very talented and promising students who may be disadvantaged by admission criteria that over-emphasize standardized tests.
How does the process differ from applying with test scores?
Students are asked on the application if they are applying test-optional and must indicate this at submission. Once an application is received, students are unable to change to the other option.
Once a test-optional application is submitted, the applicant will receive a link to the required essay questions (instantaneously or within five business days, depending on how/which application was submitted). These essay questions are intended to be concise reflections, in the applicant’s voice, and do not require prior preparation. All essay questions must be completed and submitted online.
Essay questions for students applying test-optional do not replace the writing sample required of all applicants. In addition, applicants applying test optional will be reviewed separately from applicants applying with SAT or ACT scores. Evaluation may take additional time to accommodate a thorough review of high school curriculum and grades (paying particular attention to any honors and advanced-level courses taken) and carefully consider responses to the essay questions.
After enrollment, DePaul will ask that students submit their ACT or SAT scores (if they took a test). The scores will be used to study the success of the test-optional pilot program relative to test-takers and will not be used for any other purposes.
There are three groups of students ineligible to apply test optional:
Prospective student athletes are mandated by the NCAA to submit standardized test scores for athletic eligibility.
International students are required to submit standardized test scores to prove English proficiency.
Homeschooled students also will be required to submit a standardized test score.
Preliminary results and observations
Test-optional admission has generated an average of 1,600 applications and about 105 enrolling freshmen in the first three years. Test-optional students are most likely from Chicago, low-income, and students of color, although about 20 percent are Caucasian students from highly resourced high schools. Test-optional students have almost identical freshman retention and GPAs than testers despite average ACT scores of almost six points lower. Differences in GPA and credits earned at the freshman level are better explained by Pell Grant status than by whether or not a student submitted test scores.