Face-to-Face Admissions, AP vs IB, FAFSA Changes, Test Optional: a Misnomer

Oct 2, 2023

Revised GRE Launches This Week

Friday, September 22nd was the first day that the new GRE is available, and thousands of test-takers were expected to sit for the exam this past weekend. The test will consist of 54 multiple choice questions (27 Quantitative Reasoning and 27 Verbal Reasoning). In addition, students will be required to write one essay over 30-minutes; it is worth noting that this Analytical Writing section has been removed from the soon to be launched GMAT Focus Edition. For this GRE administration, Students are expected to get their results in 8 to 10 calendar days


The less-than-two-hour revised GRE debuted six weeks before its main competitor, the similarly revised GMAT. Much of the test seems to be made with the GMAT in mind: the GRE is 17 minutes shorter and 55 dollars cheaper than its competition. ETS, the GRE test maker, hopes that its new test will gain favor among business students and, consequently, significant market share over the GMAT.

Thousands Of Testtakers To Sit For New Shorter GRE Today (Poets & Quants) – 9/22/23

Federal Money to End Legacy Admissions?

United States Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has announced that he is open to using “whatever levers” are available to discourage colleges and universities from giving admissions preference to applicants who are related to alumni and donors. This movement against legacy admissions could include the use of federal money to keep admissions policies in check. Cardona explained that “if we’re giving out financial aid and loans…we’re doing it for institutions that are providing value.”


The practice of giving legacy preference in admissions has recently come under much scrutiny, especially after the banning of race-based college admissions. Opponents argue that eliminating one but not the other creates an admissions system that is even more unbalanced against students of color. For many, ending legacy admissions is that first step to uphold diverse college campuses. Although President Biden has gone on record to denounce legacy admissions, Secretary Cardona’s statements are noteworthy as they point to forthcoming action to back up the rhetoric.

US education chief considers new ways to discourage college admissions preference for kids of alumni (Associated Press) – 9/22/23

NY Times: Current State of American Higher Education Looks Bleak

For decades, attending college has been enshrined as a “pillar of American society,” but, in recent years, Americans’ faith in and enthusiasm for traditional four-year colleges has been eroding. In the fall of 2010, there were 18 million undergraduate students in college; ten years later, that number was down to 15.5 million. In roughly the same timeframe, public opinion polls have shifted drastically. Whereas ten years ago, 98 percent of parents reported that they expected their children to attend college, that number has dropped dramatically. Presently, according to the contributors, about half of Americans do not want their children going to a four-year college.

Financial upside has been one of the key reasons that college has been so entrenched in American life. This upside has not changed. A typical college graduate will, on average, earn 65 percent more than a typical high school graduate. However, with rising costs of higher education, college debt can counterbalance the so-called “college wage premium,” in some cases negating the financial benefit. Compounding this negation is further risk: some college majors do not (at least immediately) lead to higher paying jobs and 40 percent of college attendees drop out before they finish their four-year degree. 


The contributors do not paint a rosy picture of the state of higher education in America. Beyond the financial concerns, polarized politics have led public opinion toward college to be drawn along party lines, leading to higher education pushback and attrition among some conservatives. However, despite all of the risks and shortcomings in higher education, the alternative is depicted as even less ideal: for those without a college degree, obtaining a middle-class job is becoming perpetually more difficult. 

Is College Worth It? (NY Times Podcast) – 9/20/23

AP African American Studies Approved by Virginia Board of Education

After a review process of over six months, students in the state of Virginia are approved to take the AP African American Studies course. The delay in approval stems in part from the potential conflict with Governor Glenn Youngkin’s first executive order, which intended to end the teaching of “divisive concepts” such as Critical Race Theory at schools in Virginia. The State Board of Education, however, found that the AP African American Studies course does not violate the Governor’s executive order. Schools are, therefore, cleared to continue with currently existing pilot programs through 2024, at which time, all high schools will be able to offer the course to their students.


The AP African American Studies course has been the fulcrum of the battle between Governor Ron deSantis’s Florida Department of Education and The College Board, the company that develops and administers APs. The state of Florida effectively banned the course, with the Board of Education in Arkansas following suit. Several other conservative-led states are currently conducting a review process of the course material over concerns that it may conflict with the state constitution. Virginia is the first of these states to approve the course.

Virginia Dept. of Education approves AP African American History course after months-long review (WTOP) – 9/17/23

More Women in MBA Programs, But Significant Disparities Remain

In 2018, 50 percent of the students that enrolled at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business were women, marking the first time ever that a major U.S. business school had achieved gender parity. Within five years, the percentage of women enrolled at USC Marshall has dropped precipitously to 35 percent, losing as much as eleven points in a single year. Other schools have since taken up this mantle, however: The University of Pennsylvania, for example, reported its third straight year of 50 percent or more women in its MBA program.


Over the past decade, there has been gradual improvement in gender parity at business schools. In 2022, 17 of the 56 member schools of the Forté Foundation, a non-profit geared toward expanding business school access for women, reported at least 45 percent of women enrollees. Also in 2022, 15 of the top 30 B-Schools enrolled 40 percent or more women in their MBA Programs, and 19 saw growth in women enrollees since 2017. Those numbers, however encouraging, continue to fall well short of fostering true gender parity. According to data collected by the Forté Foundation, only 32 percent of S&P 500 board members are women and only 10 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

The First Top-Ranked MBA To Enroll 50% Women Reports A Huge Decline In Women In 2023 (Poets & Quants) – 9/14/23

“Next Gen” Credentials as a Counterpoint to the High School Transcript

The author of this piece argues the limitations of the high school transcript: it does not “recognize or acknowledge ongoing learning” and does not reflect key skills such as “communication, collaboration and critical thinking.” Instead, they tout Next Generation (“next gen”) credentials, which are more holistic competency-based diplomas and certifications, such as “Leadership,” “Creativity and Innovation,” and “Adaptive Learning.” Higher education institutions in certain New England states have noted that these transcripts capture students’ work habits and mastery of skills and that proficiency-based diplomas (a type of next gen credential) “do not disadvantage college applicants.” Meanwhile, some secondary schools in Vermont, Utah, and North Dakota are currently piloting next gen credential programs.


It is fair to state that current assessments (high school transcripts, standardized test scores, etc.) do not capture the full essence and potential of a student. Thus, next gen credentials are an intriguing potential path forward. That being said, high school transcripts are so heavily entrenched in the education process that it would be difficult to imagine the feasibility of such a revolutionary shift, as suggested by this article. Additionally, there is the practical need for clear metrics for higher education admissions departments: in light of the volume of applicants at many institutions, there need to be efficient ways to sift through candidates. It will be interesting to follow the development of next gen credentials and to see what impact they have in helping to innovate the future of student assessments.

Colleges are ditching the SAT. The high school transcript should be next. (Higher Ed Dive) – 9/12/23

The Fading Importance of In-Person College Visits in Securing Admission

Despite conventional wisdom, which dictates that an in-person visit to a college will help an applicant’s chances for admission, the author of this piece argues that such thinking is no longer accurate. No Ivy League school and none of the top 15 institutions on Forbes’ 2023 America’s Top Colleges consider an applicant’s “demonstrated interest” in their institution as a factor in admissions. In fact, from that Forbes’ list only 48 percent of private schools and 23 percent of public schools include “demonstrated interest” as an admissions metric. For those admissions departments that do factor in student interest, other considerations, such as direct interaction with admissions offices and content of essay responses, overshadow in-person school visits. Due to a combination of equity concerns (the cost of traveling to a target school), high volume of applications, and practical concerns during the height of Covid-19, in-person college visits have lost the impact on student admission they once had.


It is important to note a few key caveats here. If a student is applying to a school early decision, they will be required to commit to that institution if accepted. In-person campus visits, therefore, are all-but imperative for students interested in the early decision application cycle: it is not wise to commit to a school without seeing it first. Even if college tours won’t influence students’ admission chances, they are still key tools in helping students choose between potential right-fit colleges, decide what they want front the college experience, and foster excitement for the college process, which can, in turn, have a positive effect on engagement with their class work, college essays, and standardized test prep.

Going On A College Tour Might Be An Eye Opener, But It Probably Won’t Help You Get In (Forbes) – 9/9/23

The Classical Learning Test Gains Legitimacy in Florida

On Friday, Florida’s state university system approved the Classical Learning Test (CLT) for use in undergraduate admissions. The CLT differs from other standardized admissions tests in part because it deemphasizes contemporary reading passages, instead focusing on such figures as Saint Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and, perhaps controversially, Richard Wagner. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been a vocal proponent of this test amid his ongoing feud with SAT makers The College Board. Up to this point, the CLT has been utilized primarily by religious home-school and private-school students and has mainly been accepted by private Christian Universities. Now, in Florida at least, it carries the same weight as the SAT or ACT.


For those who are skeptical of the CLT as a legitimate contender to SAT/ACT hegemony, two questions remain not fully answered:

1) Is the CLT as legitimate a measure of college success as the established tests? 

The Florida state university governing board’s faculty representative, Amanda Phalin, objected to the board’s approval of the CLT, citing a lack of “empirical evidence that it is of the same quality as the SAT or ACT.” Additionally, the sample size used by CLT to collect data on student success is a fraction of that used by the SAT and ACT. The CLT website, however, claims that a perfect score on its test surpasses that on the SAT or ACT, but sufficient elaboration is not given.

2) Does the CLT push a specific agenda?

CLT’s founder, Jeremy Tate, has repeatedly stated that his test is apolitical. The CLT’s particular popularity among the American far-right and the CLT’s association with critical race theory opponent and outspoken right-wing activist Christopher Rufo (he is on the board of academic advisors) may make such a statement difficult to take at face value.

Florida Approves Classic Learning Test for Use in College Admissions (NY Times) – 9/8/23

The College Access Index: Economic Accessibility as a Metric for Diversity

The NY Times Magazine has collected and published data on nearly 300 of the most selective public and private US colleges. This system, the College Access Index, is an updated version of a project the Times published in 2017, and its key measure is that of “economic diversity:” the percentage of a university’s students who received Pell Grants, federal scholarships usually distributed to those in the bottom 50 percent of the income distribution.

Some key findings:

– Most elite colleges have become more diverse over the past decade. Although these institutions enroll a “disproportionate share of very affluent students,” they also have increased enrollment of low- and middle-income students.

– Some of the largest increases since 2017 happened at schools without the largest endowments: schools like Muhlenberg, Cooper Union, and Hampshire.

– By this metric, which is admittedly not comprehensive, Tulane, Oberlin, and Bates are among the five least economically diverse selective institutions.


With Affirmative Action stuck down, economic diversity is now the central rotation point for the college admissions debate, and it is perhaps a concept that has the potential to build a wider coalition of proponents. Many who supported affirmative action consider economic diversity another way to help create more inclusive college campuses, owning to the fact that “racial gaps exist in income and wealth.” Meanwhile, many of those who were critical of affirmative action for giving more opportunity to individuals based solely on their race, will be more aligned with economic diversity as a metric that gives “lower-income applicants of all races…credit for what they’ve overcome.” Whether consideration of economic diversity will be enough to fill the void left by affirmative action — or even further promote campus diversity — is yet unanswered.

The College Access Index Returns (NY Times) – 9/8/23

NYU Erases Doubts About its Stance on Legacy Admissions

New York University has announced that it will modify its Common Application so that it no longer asks applicants if they are children of alumni. It will also change the way it marks alumni relations on the Common Data set — an annual report of university statistics that includes demographic information – from “Considered” to “Not Considered.”


NYU has already done away with legacy admissions – only 1.5 percent of its fall 2021 class were legacy applicants – so this move is for optical reasons. The “children of alumni” question, according to an NYU spokesperson, was not used for admissions decisions but to collect data for other offices on campus. Still, it is significant that NYU felt the need to make this change, and this speaks to the gaining momentum of the movement to end legacy preferences in undergraduate admissions.

NYU to remove legacy status question from Common App (Washington Square News) – 9/7/23

Face-to-Face Admissions: An Alternate Path

St. John’s College — a private liberal arts institution with campuses in Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe — is using an innovative approach to the application process. Students can bypass submission of essays and test scores and, instead, be evaluated entirely face-to-face. This process includes a series of interviews with counselors and faculty and participation in a college seminar. Although students can complete this assessment via zoom, they are encouraged to travel to one of St. John’s campuses in person — and the college offers financial assistance for the trip to those who do.


In a post-affirmative action admissions landscape, St. John’s novel approach to admissions could serve as a template to other schools looking to diversify their student body while adhering to stringent but often not clearly defined rules on considering students’ identities in the application process. St. John’s model does carry with it some complications, though. The approach is neither cheap nor simple and could be difficult to scale for larger institutions. Additionally, schools that embrace a face-to-face approach risk potential accusations of race-conscious admissions. Recently, Columbia Law School announced that they would be conducting face-to-face admissions, but quickly nixed the idea after substantial backlash.

College Admission Gets Personal (InsideHigherEd) – 9/5/23

UPenn’s Recent Rise in Median Admissions Test Scores

According to the Common Data Set, The University of Pennsylvania’s test-optional policies have coincided with a rise in the median SAT and ACT scores of its student body. The median SAT score has risen from a 1490 in 2017 to a 1535 in 2022, with an increase of 20 points since the test-optional policy was enacted in 2020. As for the ACT, UPenn’s median test score has risen 1 point in the same time period, with half of that growth occurring since 2020.


30 percent of UPenn’s class of 2026 did not submit SAT scores, which is the highest percent of any Ivy and is 7 percent higher than the comparable figure from the previous class year. Among the 70 percent who did submit scores, the median SAT score is equivalent to or higher than all of the Ivies, except for Yale and Columbia (median of 1540 for each).  It is worth noting, however, that although an uptick in the median ACT score coincides with the pandemic, Penn’s median SAT score has risen at a steady pace since 2017. Regardless of the root cause, if the growth continues at a steady pace, in 2025, the median SAT score among incoming students at University of Pennsylvania will be an astronomical 1560.

How Penn’s test-optional policy has impacted students’ test scores (The Daily Pennsylvanian) – 8/30/23

Law School Pipeline Program a Way to Increase Candidate Pool Diversity

22 law schools, including Michigan State University College of Law, Florida International University College of Law, and Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law, are participating in a unique pilot program. LexPostBacc is a year-long system that prepares prospective students for the rigors of legal education and guarantees students admission, as well as a 20 percent scholarship, a $3,000 stipend, and a free bar review upon completion. 78 students participated in this past year’s program; 54 completed it, and 51 opted to matriculate this fall.


This program is a unique way to broaden the pool of students who enroll in law school – and one which could help boost diversity in a race-blind admissions landscape. In order to qualify, “participants must either be from an underrepresented racial group; be the first in their families to have graduated from college; or have received a need-based federal Pell Grant as an undergraduate”. An additional qualifying factor is that participants must have scored in the bottom 25% of national LSAT takers. 94% of the participants in this past year’s initial program were students of color.

This new pipeline program turned rejected applicants into new law students (Reuters) – 8/30/23

Registration Now Open for the GMAT Focus Edition

Approximately six months after the revised GMAT Focus Edition was announced, registration became available for business school hopefuls on August 29th. However, although there will be September and October test dates for the standard GMAT exam, the first administration of the focus edition will not take place until November 7th. The GMAT Focus Edition, like the legacy test, will remain valid for five years.


More thorough details about the test changes can be found here, but a chart with key takeaways and comparisons to the GRE is copied below:

MBA Applicants Can Finally Register For The New Shorter GMAT (Poets & Quants) – 8/29/23

Major Changes In The Works For the FAFSA Form

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which students need to complete and file in order to be eligible for any federal aid toward their undergraduate programs, is poised to undergo “tectonic” changes. Although a combination of federal loans, work study programs, grants, and scholarships is available to a great many families, some mistakenly think they won’t qualify for aid and do not apply. Others are intimidated by the length and complexity of the process. The Education Department intends to streamline the process with the implementation of changes that were approved as part of the passing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2020.

Major Changes and Takeaways:

  • To estimate how much a family can afford to pay, the FAFSA will use a calculation called “Student Aid Index.” The info for this calculation will be pulled directly from the IRS, instead of families having to manually enter the data points that make up this calculation.
  • Families will no longer be given more consideration for aid if they have multiple children in college at the same time, what has been colloquially known as the “sibling discount” – this will have a more profound effect on middle-and-higher income families, and Colleges will still be able to factor this family status into their aid packages.
  • The FAFSA will raise the minimum family income threshold allowing more students to be eligible for aid. According to FASFA, more than 1.5 million low-income families will qualify for the maximum Pell Grant award, which is just under $7.5 thousand.
  • Due to delays owing to the “complexity of the simplification”, the FAFSA filing season will open in December for the 2024-2025 school year– this is two months later than in previous years. This is not advantageous for filers as it is prudent to start the process as early as possible, since some aid is meted out on a first-come-first-served basis.


The new FAFSA: Changes to college financial aid application are ‘tectonic,’ says expert (CNBC) – 8/28/23

APs and IBs: Two Paths Toward the Same Goal

Advanced Placement Courses and the International Baccalaureate Diploma program are two pathways through which students can get a hard start on post secondary education. Both programs offer a robust pedagogical framework that fosters critical thinking, prepares students for the rigor of university-level courses, and provides the potential to earn college credits. 

Some of the key differences between the two programs are below:


– Offered in more than 22,800 U.S. high schools as of 2021; approximately 35 percent of U.S. high school graduates have taken at least one AP course.

– Offers a selection of 39 courses over a variety of disciplines

– Graded on a scale of 1 to 5, where 3 or is the passing, threshold, depending on the school

– AP classes are taught over 1-2 semesters; the AP tends to cover a wider breadth of subjects on a more accelerated pace than the IB

– AP assessments are heavily weighted on factual knowledge: students often research a subject, and then explain it in a short essay or a variety of multiple-choice questions.


– Offered in more than 900 U.S. high schools and globally in more than 5,700 high schools in 159 countries

– Offers a selection of 57 courses over a variety of disciplines

– Graded on a scale of 1 to 7, where 3, 4, or, 5 or is the passing threshold, depending on the school

– Courses as part of the IB diploma are taught over two academic years; the IB tends to cover subjects in greater depth than the AP.

– IB assessments consist almost exclusively of written responses to foster conceptual understanding.

– As part of the IB Diploma Program students are required to write a 4,000 word research paper – the Extended Essay – as well as complete mandatory creative, active, and community service activities.


Both curricula offer students an opportunity to interact with learning at a high level and to develop their critical lens. And these programs are not mutually exclusive: “The notion that you need to pick AP or IB and that they can’t coexist in a school is inaccurate….they can and it’s actually been very beneficial to all our students to have both.” For both programs, there is, sadly, a race-related opportunity gap in the United States, with Black, Latino, and Indigenous students are more likely than White and Asian students to attend a high school that does not offer AB or IB courses.

The Differences Between AP and IB (U.S. News & World Report) – 8/23/23

“Test-Optional:” A Misnomer

Three and a half years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 80 percent of colleges and universities are following “test-optional” policies for admissions. In the wake of this sweeping change in approach, this article argues that a lack of mandatory test scores actually creates a more exclusionary admissions environment. Wealthier students with support from additional stakeholders such as counselors and tutors can use SAT/ACT scores as a substantial differentiator, while lower-income students tend to opt out of taking the tests. In 2022, students from families with annual earnings of less than $67,083 accounted for only 27 percent of test takers who reported their family income. This is a stark contrast from 2016, where the figure for families making less than $60,001 was 42 percent. Conversely, the percentage of wealthier students has risen from 46 percent to 57 percent in the same time period. The author also cites a 2019 survey that found that 83 percent of colleges recognized SAT/ACT scores to be of “considerable” or “moderate” importance and contends that higher education institutions are still valuing admission test scores. Admissions discrepancies back up their point: In 2022, Fordham University accepted 63 percent of students who submitted scores, compared with 49 percent who did not. At Boston College those same figures are 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Furthermore, these schools are not outliers, with other high profile schools such as Barnard and University of Virginia seeing similar discrepancies.


Although the Fordham and BC figures are jarring, I am cautious about pointing to causation over correlation here. That being said, the author of this piece makes numerous salient points – especially related to the need for transparency from higher ed institutions: “With the Supreme Court affirmative action decision injecting some chaos into the college application process, it’s important for colleges to be as straightforward with applicants as possible. The misleading “test-optional” label only complicates the path to college for many low-income students.”

OPINION: The charade of ‘test-optional’ admissions (The Hechinger Report) – 8/22/23

Top U.S. Magnet High-School Admissions Under Scrutiny for Racial Preference

Last month a legal activist group petitioned the Supreme Court to review a case regarding the selection process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (T.J), one of the top high schools in the United States. The group argues that these admissions policies, which were modified to consider “experience factors” in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, disproportionately harm Asian American applicants. After admissions changes went into effect, the percentage of Asian American students at T.J. dropped from 73 percent to 54 percent; meanwhile, the percentages of students from other backgrounds saw distinct rises: Black students (from 2 percent to 8 percent), Hispanic students (from 3 percent to 11 percent), and White students (from 18 percent to 22 percent). In a previous challenge, the appeals court ruled that T.J. had legitimate interest in “expanding the array of student backgrounds,” while the dissent opinion contended that T.J. ‘s policies contain “an undisputed racial motivation and undeniable racial result.”


The landmark case of Students for Fair Admissions vs. Harvard opened the door for further litigation concerning race and admissions practices. Some have predicted that high school admissions would be the next battleground, and this new case is a lodestar in this movement. Interesting to note, this is not the first time the Supreme Court has encountered this case: in April 2022 the Court received an emergency request to block Thomas Jefferson High School’s new admissions criteria. The request was rejected, but the Court’s three most conservative justices — Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch — went on record saying they would have granted the request.

Supreme Court Is Asked to Hear a New Admissions Case on Race (NY Times) – 8/21/23

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs Face Bans in 22 U.S. States

As of July, 40 bills have been introduced in 22 states that would place restrictions on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives at public colleges. As states wait for these bills to be resolved, many have put a pause to DEI programs across public campuses. Students attending college in these states should expect changes to curricula and/or elimination of or restructuring to campus support services, like LGBTQIA+ centers. This pushback against DEI also affects workers, as some bills include language that restricts “identity based” hiring and prohibits colleges from spending money on DEI offices and staff.


Although DEI programs have become a main sticking point in our ongoing culture war, with some accusing these programs of propagating “discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination,” proponents of DEI programs view these initiatives as both practical and essential. DEI advocates contend that these initiatives increase student success by creating a sense of belonging and building inclusive learning environments. Furthermore, a positive correlation has been found between increased faculty diversity and positive overall graduation rates for underrepresented students, a demographic which constitutes a wider breadth of Americans than is sometimes considered. According to Laura Lanese, president and CEO of the Inter-University Council of Ohio,  “DEI is for students with disabilities, veterans with PTSD, minority students, and students who are New Americans who may need extra help due to language or cultural barriers…DEI helps more students achieve the American Dream of success via a college education.”

DEI Bans at Colleges: What Students Should Know (U.S. News & World Report) – 8/18/23

Written by

Zachary Adler
Author Image Since 2010, Zach has been helping students achieve their college readiness goals, specializing in all sections of the SAT, ACT, PSAT, and SHSAT. Prior to joining Onsen, Zach worked for a global investment firm, as well as in various roles in the education space. He has served as a youth mentor and has run college readiness information sessions for students in under-resourced communities. Additionally, Zach is a writer and filmmaker. He is an International Baccalaureate scholar and a graduate of Boston University.

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