An in-depth analysis of graduation rates for students at the University of Minnesota Crookston (UMN Crookston) has shown high school grades as a strong predictor of student success.  As part of a new holistic admissions review, UMN Crookston will place significantly greater emphasis on high school grades and the rigor of high school coursework when making admissions decisions. At the same time, students will choose whether or not they submit an entrance exam score making UMN Crookston one of the first in the region to become test-optional. 

The four-year pilot program, approved recently by the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, will move UMN Crookston to a test-optional admissions practice. The decision, which widens access to the University, was based upon careful analysis of retention and graduation rates for students as well as a review of recent research and best practices in higher education. A small but growing number of institutions across the country are making a decision to do away with the mandatory submission of an entrance exam score. 

According to a report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, approximately 25 percent of students who apply to colleges and universities with test-optional practices elect not to submit test scores.  The students who choose not to submit are more likely to be first-generation college students, Pell grant recipients, and students of color—all significant student populations served by UMN Crookston. Using a holistic review process that does not emphasize ACT or SAT test scores will help UMN Crookston identify highly-qualified students other schools might miss.

For students like senior, business major Bethany Novak, the ACT can be intimidating. “Taking exams is always stressful, but coming from a very small high school, I was concerned about attending college and very uneasy about taking the ACT. It actually felt like a barrier,” Novak says. “Fortunately, my older sisters, both college graduates, helped guide me; otherwise, I am not sure I would have made it. I was fortunate to have someone there to encourage me not everyone does.”

Prior to the test-optional decision, UMN Crookston used the ACT as one of the determining criteria in the admissions process. The ACT, originally administered for the first time in 1959 along with its competitor the SAT, has long guided admissions decisions for colleges and universities. 

This holistic review process focuses on three factors: The first is a student’s high school grade point average (GPA) and a review of the courses they took in high school. The second is a range of co-curricular factors such as community service, leadership involvement, engagement in athletics or the arts, family roles, and responsibilities, and work experiences. Lastly, students will respond to several short essay questions in which they respond with information about unique talents, achievements, or experiences overcoming challenges to accomplish educational and/or life goals.

Michael Griffin, who provides leadership for enrollment management at UMN Crookston, was a part of the development of this move to test-optional. “We looked in depth at all our admissions practices and what we found will help us better serve our students, Griffin says.  “The test-optional decision is just one aspect of improving our entire admissions process.” 

John Hoffman, vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs is also in favor of the test-optional move. “Students spend four years earning their GPA but they spend just four hours earning an ACT score,” Hoffman says. “We believe what our students do over four years tells us more than what they do in four hours during an entrance exam. The decision to initiate the test-optional practice is central to our commitment to better serve students and to help them be successful on our campus.”