How Did Pandemic Disruptions Impact Applications, Enrollment, and Outcomes at Selective Institutions?

New Findings and Implications for Long-Term Policy and Practice 

The pandemic has upended the college going process in many ways, including driving a near-universal shift to test optional. To better understand the implications and impacts of these shifts, a group of 50+ selective public and private higher education institutions and three national higher education organizations joined forces with College Board to form the Admissions Research Consortium.  

Over the last two years, the consortium has used data from participating institutions to create a collective understanding of the impact of these pandemic disruptions. This included analysis of ARC Institutions' applications, enrollments, students' academic performance, and implications for long term admissions policies. 

Two new ARC research briefs and a summary piece are now available to download here. Work continues to examine longer-term college outcomes. 

Key Research Findings 

  • Applications to consortium institutions increased substantially in both fall 2021 and fall 2022, compared to pre-pandemic cohorts. Institutions responded by admitting and enrolling more students for the fall 2021 cohort, but not in fall 2022 when admission offers and enrollments decreased modestly.  

  • The near-universal shift to test-optional admissions policies didn’t meaningfully change previous trends in the racial/ethnic composition of incoming classes at consortium institutions in either fall 2021 or fall 2022. Moreover, the socioeconomic composition of enrolled students has been unchanged over the past 5 years at consortium institutions.  

  • About half of applicants in recent cohorts disclosed their test score in the admissions process. Score disclosure choices were consistent for students across different demographic attributes in the fall 2021 and fall 2022 cohorts. Students with higher test scores—relative to the college to which they were applying—usually disclosed scores and students with lower relative scores usually withheld scores, regardless of demographics.   

  • Among fall 2021 first-year enrollees with the same high school grades, students with higher SAT scores–regardless of their decision to disclose or withhold their test scores–had higher average first-year grades, credit accumulation, and retention rates. First-year outcomes were lower for score withholders and lowest for students with no SAT score. Test scores continue to be valid predictors of first-year outcomes in college. 

  • Continued understanding of student outcomes in college must be assessed given the unique and varied disruptions the pandemic continues to bear on high school students transitioning to college.  

After two years of study, we are releasing key findings and implications for use by enrollment practitioners, campus leaders, secondary school leaders and counselors, and policymakers. You can view the full ARC research briefs and a new summary report here