Admissions Research Consortium Releases First Round of Analysis on College Admissions and Enrollment Trends

Colleges are eager to understand how the impacts of the pandemic are shaping their incoming classes, and how these impacts might continue to affect college performance outcomes in the future. Together with our members, College Board has kicked off the Admissions Research Consortium (ARC), which aims to help colleges do exactly that.  

ARC is a multiyear, collaborative research initiative with 80 participating colleges and associations, including the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), and College Board. ARC is also guided by a Research Advisory Committee composed of academic and institutional researchers.   

The initial findings in the first ARC Research Brief help participating institutions gain insight into their own and their peers’ admissions processes and outcomes, as well as understanding of applicants’ decisions about whether to submit their test scores for consideration in the college admissions process. The data show new trends in application and enrollment behavior driven by the covid-19 pandemic and a predominantly test optional environment. Future analysis will focus on how application and enrollment trends continue to evolve in future cycles and how students are performing once in college. 

Three key themes emerged from the initial analyses of the fall 2021 college application cycle:   

  1. Participating institutions saw significant increases in applications, offers of admission, and enrollees among nearly all student subgroups between Fall 2020 and Fall 2021 at rates above and beyond prior years.     

  1. The proportional representation of student subgroups among applicants, admits, and enrollees at ARC institutions changed very little between Fall 2018 and Fall 2021. Overall, these trends are in line with year-over-year trends prior to the pandemic. There is some variation across ARC segments and institutions—more selective private ARC colleges saw the share of Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Two or More Races enrollees increase.   

  1. At most, about 20% of applicants had no recorded SAT or ACT score. Among the other 80% of ARC applications, approximately 50% submitted an SAT/ACT score and 30% had a score but chose not to submit. Students with similar scores applying to the same college make similar decisions about whether to submit their scores regardless of demographics like race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Test scores, relative to the college they are applying to, are the strongest single predictor of whether a student chooses to submit their score—students with high relative scores tend to submit them, while students with low relative scores tend not to submit them.  

In this analysis, more than 50 colleges, representing a range of selective public and private nonprofit four-year institutions in the U.S., provided data on their applications, admissions, and enrollments from Fall 2018 to Fall 2021. This information was merged with College Board assessment data to understand how college-going trends and outcomes were affected by the pandemic.  

The ARC initiative is ongoing and will continue for at least two additional admission cycles in order to understand college performance and changes in application, admission, and enrollment over multiple years. This initial report is part of a larger story that is still unfolding, and ARC is committed to continuing to study and report on how college going patterns and behaviors continue to evolve across multiple years post-pandemic.