Test Optional Admissions Expanded to Most Programs This Fall

A Pitt flag with trees behind it, with orange and red leavesFirst-year prospective students seeking to attend the Pittsburgh campus in fall 2021 will have one more tool available to ease the process amid the pandemic.

The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid announced the test optional policy for fall 2021 admission has been expanded to first-year applicants in all programs, majors, schools and colleges, with the exception of the School of Nursing.

The policy, which allows students applying for the main campus to decide whether or not to include SAT or ACT scores as part of their application, was offered to 2021 applicants of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences in July and was implemented broadly in August. In April the Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown campuses began offering the policy.

“We wanted to make sure no student was denied the opportunity to apply for admission at the University of Pittsburgh, especially because of the availability of testing centers,” said Kellie Kane, associate vice provost for enrollment and executive director of admissions.

Kane joined Barry Duerr, associate director of admissions, and Julia Ehlis, assistant director of admissions, on Thursday to discuss the changes during a webinar with guidance counselors from across the country.  

Under the new policy, applicants will receive comprehensive individual reviews and admissions decisions will be based upon holistic factors such as strength of academic coursework, performance in advanced courses, short answer and essay questions and extracurricular activities. Short answers, essays and extracurriculars are now mandatory for those who choose not to include test scores.

Students who do not submit test scores will still be eligible for merit based scholarships and to apply to the Honors College and Guaranteed Admissions Programs for graduate schools. Students will be notified if there are delays in admissions due to the new review process.

Advice for applicants

Kane said factors such as transcripts and grades will “take a slightly larger role” in the evaluation process for students who do not submit test scores and encouraged applicants to use supplemental information to share personal stories about their educations and lives.

“We strongly recommend a personal statement where you can tell us who you are and why you make a great fit. We will take letters of recommendation but you want to make sure they’re telling us something that we’re not already seeing on a student’s transcript,” she said.

She used the example of a recommendation letter praising a student for high grades versus a letter discussing how a student experienced homelessness during her junior year of high school to illustrate the point.

“Without that letter, we never would have known—her entire transcript was straight A’s her entire life,” she said.

Ehlis noted that letters don’t have to be written by traditional authors such as school counselors as long as they come from someone who knows the student well.

“It should be someone who knows the student fairly well to be able to talk about these things. That can be a teacher, employer, someone who leads your church or religious institution. As long as it’s someone who can speak to the character of the student to give that information,” she said.

Kane said the same attention to detail should be given to statements about extracurricular activities, particularly since COVID-19 shutdowns impacted the previous school year.

“A page of all the activities a student has ever done with an X marking the year that it was done is not as important as one activity that really meant something. Experience doesn’t have to be starting a club or being class president,” she said.

“Also, not every student has the ability to be part of extracurricular activities. Their extracurricular activity could be taking care of siblings, going to work to finance their education or to pay bills in the household. That’s as important and as impressive as being captain of a soccer team.”

For now, the test optional policy is only in place for the fall 2021 term, with the expectation that it will be extended to future years pending the assessment of the fall 2021 enrollment cycle.

“We’re doing what’s in the best interest of students and families as they apply to the University of Pittsburgh. If it ends up being a practice that is embraced in our community, my best guess is it is going to continue. If at the end of the year we get feedback it didn’t work for our students and our campus community, then we’ll consider going back to the test option,” said Kane.