Discussion paper

DP18090 Test-Optional Admissions

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend of many colleges moving to test-optional, and in some cases test-blind, admissions policies. A frequent claim is that by not seeing standardized test scores, a college is able to admit a student body that it prefers, such as one with more diversity. But how can observing less information allow a college to improve its decisions? We argue that test-optional policies may be driven by social pressure on colleges' admission decisions. We propose a model of college admissions in which a college disagrees with society on which students should be admitted. We show how the college can use a test-optional policy to reduce its "disagreement cost" with society, regardless of whether this results in a preferred student pool. We discuss which students either benefit from or are harmed by a test-optional policy. In an application, we study how a ban on using race in admissions may result in more colleges going test-optional or test blind.


Dessein, W, A Frankel and N Kartik (2023), ‘DP18090 Test-Optional Admissions‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 18090. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp18090