One year after going test-optional, UChicago sees record diversity, steps up rural outreach

Last June, the University of Chicago announced that it would no longer require undergraduate applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, becoming the first of the country’s most prestigious universities to go test-optional. A year later, it still remains unclear whether the announcement will spark a wave of test-optional policies at other highly selective universities. UChicago, meanwhile, says it has seen results.

Ten to fifteen percent of applicants for UChicago’s incoming class didn’t submit ACT/SAT scores, and non-submitters were represented in similar proportions among admitted students. “We send signals with our policies,” James G. Nondorf, UChicago’s dean of admissions and financial aid, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “We are signaling here that there are a lot of ways to show academic promise, that a test is not the be-all, end-all piece of your application.”

One element of a broader effort to diversify the campus

UChicago leaders say the test-optional policy—in the context of a broader access and affordability initiative—has helped the university enroll more underrepresented students. For example, this fall’s entering class will have 20 percent more first-generation and low-income students. Rural student enrollment increased as well, by 56 percent, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Latinx students will make up 17 percent of the incoming class, and Black students will make up 10 percent, both record numbers for the university.

Related: Selective schools adopt ‘test-optional’ policy at an increasing pace >

But university leaders are careful to clarify that those numbers aren’t solely the result of going test-optional; the institution’s UChicago Empower program has a number of components—including scholarships and guaranteed paid summer internships—intended to make the university more attractive to underrepresented students.

Plans to increase rural outreach

The university also recently announced plans to increase its presence in rural communities, working with rootEd Alliance, a collaboration of philanthropic organizations focused on higher education for rural students. UChicago will host more alumni get togethers and admissions info sessions in rural areas, and will fly-in rural high school counselors and administrators to visit campus.

In addition, the UChicago Emerging Rural Leaders program each summer will bring 30 top rural high school sophomores to campus for a one-week, fully-paid session on preparing for college. High school juniors from rural areas, meanwhile, will be eligible for scholarships covering a three-week on-campus summer session featuring application guidance. The rural leaders program, made possible with support from UChicago Trustee Byron D. Trott, also will award merit scholarships of $20,000 across four years to rural summer program participants who ultimately enroll at the university.

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