Test-Optional Policies: Increasing Diversity and Enrollment

Test-optional policies have been in effect for three admission cycles and have a profound impact in graduate management education. In fact, only one in five MBA programs currently require standardized test scores from all applicants, whereas most other business schools have implemented a test-optional policy for admission to their degree-granting programs, according to a report by the MBA Roundtable and Wiley.

The research suggests that leaders in the field are attributing higher enrollment and increased student diversity to the waiving of standardized test score requirements, such as the GRE and the GMAT.

“As many business schools move to test optional admissions, it is important to see how they are innovating their curriculum to meet the needs of changing learners attending their programs,” said Jeff Bieganek, the Executive Director of the MBA Roundtable. “The development of appropriate pre-program learning opportunities as well as adaptions to courses and overall curriculum will be increasingly important to guarantee student success.  It is important to see how schools are driving those innovations.” 

The research report, Test-Optional Admission Policies And The Impact On Graduate Management Education, includes the responses from 116 business school administrators affiliated with 107 graduate unique business schools and gathers their insights and experience since the implementation of the test-optional policy. 

Results indicate improved qualifications of leadership, social influence, creativity, originality, and initiative within the incoming student body, with nearly 20 percent of respondents reporting a positive impact in these areas. One respondent commented, “These tests were helping AdCom teams to make evaluations easier and not necessarily the true measure of one's intelligence or propensity for success.”

However, skills often measured on cognitive-based standardized exams, such as complex problem-solving and analytical and critical thinking, were seen as being more negatively impacted by the test-optional policy. 

Additionally, the majority of respondents say that the volume of applications has increased and the student body has become more diversified as a result of the test-optional policy. The results of the survey demonstrate that:

  • More than half of respondents (60%) report an increase in the racial/ethnic make-up of the student body. 
  • Nearly half (49%) say the career background of the student body is more diverse. 
  • 44% report improved gender diversity.
  • 43%  report increased diversity of academic background. 

The report also indicates that most business schools that employ test-optional policies also offer pre-program learning opportunities to help prepare admitted students for the classroom. Two in three respondents (66%) say their schools offer admitted students pre-program learning opportunities, another third (30%) use transcript and resume review methods to identify students to participate. The pre-program learning opportunities often cover topics such as math, statistics, accounting, and finance and these programs tend to be asynchronous (73%) and offered completely online (65%).

Most graduate business programs have mitigated admission requirements of cognitive-based standardized testing in recent years and the latest research from MBA Roundtable and Wiley demonstrates that test-optional admission policies have resulted in higher enrollment, increased student diversity, and improved student qualifications such as leadership and initiative.