THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY’S New Test Optional Policy Helped Shape a More Diverse Freshman Class

Story courtesy of George Washington University

The number of students who identified as first-generation college students increased by 14 percent, with 13.9 percent of students identifying that neither of their parents had earned a bachelor’s degree compared to 11.9 percent the previous fall.
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WASHINGTON – A summer of 2015 decision to not require SAT or ACT scores for most students applying for admission at the George Washington University (GW) for fall 2016 has led to the most diverse freshman class in the university’s history. 

With the final numbers tabulated for students who entered as freshmen in fall 2016, the university saw a 33 percent increase in students from underrepresented minority groups. This population makes up 20.2 percent of this year’s class compared with 14.9 percent of last year’s class. 

“We adopted our test-optional policy to diversify an already outstanding applicant pool by reaching out to exceptional students who have been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities,” said Steven Knapp, president of George Washington University. “Our experience this first year under the new policy would seem to validate that approach.”

More than 25,550 undergraduate students applied to enter for fall 2016, an unprecedented 29 percent increase in applications over the previous year. Of the applicants, 21 percent opted to take advantage of GW’s test optional policy. GW accepted 40 percent and enrolled a freshman class of 2,523 students from 48 states and the District of Columbia and 60 countries. Of the total enrolled class, 29 percent chose not to submit test scores.

One element that influenced GW’s decision to adopt a test-optional admissions policy was a concern that outstanding, academically talented students who did not earn high scores on the SAT or ACT may have felt discouraged from applying. 

In this first-year class after the test-optional policy, there are 84 percent more African-American freshmen over the previous year’s class, with 8.8 percent representation compared to 4.7 percent last year. Other minority groups saw population increases as well. Hispanic student enrollment rose by 11 percent.

In other diversity barometers, the number of students who identified as first-generation college students increased by 14 percent with 13.9 percent of students identifying that neither of their parents had earned a bachelor’s degree compared to 11.9 percent the previous fall. Finally, as a representation of the diverse socioeconomic status of students, while financial aid numbers are still preliminary, it appears that the number of full-time freshman students receiving Pell Grants increased to nearly 15 percent from 13.8 percent the previous year.  

This year’s freshman class also continues a recent four-year trend of an increase in the median unweighted academic GPA.

“The high GPA from our students is a sign that GW is continuing its momentum to strengthen the quality of the class and recruit the most academically strong and diverse students,” said Laurie Koehler, vice provost for enrollment management and retention. “We are excited to have enrolled such a talented group of students who feel that GW is a great fit for them.” •