Despite a drop in GW’s acceptance rate for the Class of 2020, experts say it’s unclear if the University was more selective in its admissions decisions this year.
GW accepted 39.5 percent of undergraduate applicants for its incoming freshman class – a 5.5 percent drop from last year’s 10-year-high acceptance rate. Experts said that though GW did accept a smaller percentage of applicants this year, that decrease is nominal because the number of applicants they could choose from was much larger than in 2015.
The number of applications surged by 28 percent this year, and GW admitted about 1,000 more students this year than in 2015, part of an effort to slightly increase the size of the freshman class. A school’s admit rate is part of a series of strategic decisions officials make as they try to predict how many of those students will actually enroll – a lower-than-expected enrollment could mean a drop in revenue, but a higher-than-expected enrollment could stretch resources thin.
Officials planned for a slightly larger freshman class this academic year to make up for a revenue shortfall and enrolled 2,574 students. GW relies on tuition for 75 percent of its revenue, meaning enrolling the right number of students is critical for its bottom line.
This is also the first class of students admitted under GW’s test-optional policy. About 17 percent of the admitted students this year did not include their test scores.
Richard Vedder, the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, said while a drop in the admit rate is “a good statistic” for a school, waiving the standardized test requirement can make GW look more selective – even if the process to get accepted is easier.
“They might have gone test-optional to get a block of new students, claim interest in multicultural diversity, but in reality it’s an attempt to get a bigger pool of applicants from all income ranges who are maybe somewhat marginal students, but they can pay the tuition of GW,” said Vedder, who is an economics professor at Ohio University.
GW’s admit rate is substantially higher than the three peer schools who have released admissions numbers for the Class of 2020. Duke University admitted 8.7 percent of undergraduate applicants, Northwestern University selected 10.7 percent and the University of Southern California let in 16.5 percent.
American University is the only one of GW’s peers to go test-optional, but New York University allows students to submit results from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests instead of the SAT or ACT.
Although officials announced in February that the increase in the number of black and Latino applicants was “significant” this year, going test-optional did not make a notable difference in the number of multicultural students admitted to GW. The percent of multicultural students admitted increased by just 1 percent – 35 percent of accepted students, according to a release.
Experts said the increase is so slight because the chance to not include test scores could appeal to all prospective students – not just the minority and low-income students the policy is designed to attract.
Robert Kelchen, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, said test-optional schools “tend to attract higher-income whites with low test scores.”
He said the applicant pool of students who didn’t submit test scores “likely looked like the rest of the student body just based on the number of minority students not really changing.”
But Laurie Koehler, the vice provost for enrollment management and retention, said GW is “on the right track” to filling its enrollment goal while building a more diverse class. She added that the percentage of students who did not include test scores was about on par with what officials expected.
Koehler said officials hope to enroll between 2,500 and 2,600 students for next fall’s class – in line with this year’s slightly larger freshman class size.
“We are confident we will be able to meet that target,” Koehler said in an email.
She said while officials are aware of rankings and admit rates as they build their classes, their priority is “an academically strong, diverse and talented group of students.”
Still, GW’s test-optional policy could potentially hurt its standing in U.S. News & World Report rankings, one of the most well-known college rankings systems, if more than a quarter of students who enroll skipped test scores on their applications.
The outlet announced last week that it will dock a school’s SAT/ACT average – used to help calculate the rank – if less than 75 percent of a school’s incoming class submits standardized test scores.
Being test-optional could also help GW continue to draw in international students because overseas schools often don’t emphasize standardized testing the same way the U.S. does, said Lindsey Maharaj, the director of college counseling at International College Counselors.
The University hopes to have 15 percent of its undergraduate population consist of international students by 2022 as part of its strategic plan. This year, 15 percent of admitted students came from abroad.
“It provides them an extra opportunity to showcase their academic abilities in other ways,” she said.