UC system goes test-optional, relaxes admissions process amid COVID-19

The University of California (UC) and California State University systems this week announced that they would temporarily suspend several admissions requirements to reduce stress on students during the coronavirus crisis. The Los Angeles Times notes that high schools’ shift to online instruction, the cancelation of standardized tests, the adoption of pass/fail grading systems, and other COVID-19-related changes have all created uncharted territory for high school juniors and seniors—and the colleges they seek to attend.

“This period of uncertainty predicated by the COVID-19 situation greatly impacts our previously assured pipeline of students to UC, which includes California resident freshmen, California community college transfers, domestic and international nonresidents,” said Han Mi Yoon-Wu, director of undergraduate admissions at the UC Office of the President. “The academic verification process … and enrollments will be notably compromised.”

Dropping standardized testing requirement for fall 2021

UC, which has nine campuses and receives more than 200,000 applications every year, said its Academic Senate and Board of Regents have agreed to waive the system’s standardized testing requirement for students applying for freshman admission in fall 2021. The change is temporary, however; UC President Janet Napolitano said it is “intended as an accommodation and not a permanent policy shift.”

UC officials for months have been debating whether to quash the system’s testing requirement, and its regents had been expected to make a decision by May. Given UC’s size and influence, observers have said the university’s approach could sway how other institutions view the role of standardized testing in college admissions.

Under the new, temporary waiver, students will still be allowed to submit their test scores, which can bolster applications for certain scholarships, but UC campuses will “ensure that no student is harmed in admissions selection should they not submit a test score.”

Related: Could COVID-19 accelerate the switch to test-optional admissions policies? >

Meanwhile, the 23-campus Cal State system—which had about 363,000 applicants last fall—has not yet announced a change to its standardized testing requirement for fall 2021.

Relaxing the admissions process to improve equity

However, Cal State has joined UC in temporarily eliminating the letter grade requirement for 15 mandatory college-prep courses that high school seniors must submit to gain admission. EdSource reports that “seniors already have received their acceptance or rejection letters from UC and CSU campuses but in normal years acceptances can be revoked in the summer if students’ grades significantly drop in the spring.”

In addition, both systems will give students additional flexibility in submitting official final transcripts and will not rescind admissions offers from students who miss transcript deadlines.

For transfer students, Cal State will reduce the number of units needed to enroll and will accept “credit” or “pass” in lieu of letter grades for courses taken during the coronavirus crisis. UC, meanwhile, will lift the cap on the number of transfer credits with pass/fail grading.

And while UC is keeping its May 1 decision deadline for admitted students, Napolitano has said the system will grant flexibility to students who can’t meet that deadline and may struggle to submit their nonrefundable deposit. Cal State is allowing individual campuses to address decision deadlines.

The Los Angeles Times reports that UC’s announcement drew praise from equity advocates, families, students, and counselors. UC officials “are showing us they can pivot quickly to ensure equity in admissions for our most vulnerable students,” said Audrey Dow, senior vice president for the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Calling the COVID-10 pandemic “a disaster of historic proportions disrupting every aspect of our lives,” Napolitano said in a statement that “the University’s flexibility at this crucial time will ensure prospective students aiming for UC get a full and fair shot—no matter their current challenges.”

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