Campus News

UK Adopts Test-optional Policy for 2021-22 Academic Year

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 18, 2020) — The University of Kentucky has decided on a test-optional policy for the 2021-22 academic year — meaning students can apply to attend UK without an ACT or SAT test score — joining around 1,400 institutions, out of the 4,000 across the U.S., that are test optional for next year.  

“We know, through national research, that while test scores are an important part of an application, they're actually not the best indication of student success. The GPA is,” said UK Associate Vice President for Student Success and Chief Enrollment Officer Christine Harper. “We ran our data here at the University of Kentucky, and it paired very well with the national data — finding that GPA is a better indication of student success and retention than test score. So, based on that, we felt very comfortable moving to a test-optional process.”

UKNow spoke with Harper to answer some additional questions about the new test-optional application.

UKNow: Why did UK decide to become test optional?

Harper: The idea to become test optional began in the spring, as the pandemic hit. The testing agencies that administer the ACT and SAT had to stop administering those exams, due to large testing spaces being unsafe. As safety guidelines and guidance came through on what we could do —  socially distance, to maintain safety, and wearing masks — they started to offer the exams again. But students have still had challenges accessing those exams. UK accepted the reality that we will have students that —  for every effort that they made to try, and schedule and register for an exam —  may not have been able to do it. We do know that there have been some tests where students have driven three hours to find out that the testing site could not accommodate the number of students, or that the test was canceled. So, when you take a step back, in an equity frame, we have to enable the same level of access to all students. And while our testing agency partners are doing the best they can to make sure that there are ample opportunities and access, we felt that, based on the information that we had over the summer, we needed to move to test optional.

UKNow: What about the colleges that had their own requirements in place?

Harper: The next challenge the UK Office of Enrollment was faced with was making the test-optional policy accessible for every college. For example, the UK College of Engineering requires a 25 on the math section of the ACT, or equivalent SAT. So, the enrollment team went through the data to decide, if we don't have a test score, what performance, in what math courses, at what grade level would then equate to the same level of ability to perform and be successful? All of the colleges have been great partners in reviewing the data that's been provided — by the wonderful team that we have in Institutional Research and Advanced Analytics Decision Support at UK —  to make sure that we could assess a student based on GPA and course performance.

UKNow: If not test scores, what is UK reviewing to decide whether or not a student is admitted?

Harper: When we talk about GPA, it's not just the overall GPA. We are looking at a student’s performance and engagement holistically over their last four years in high school. This takes into account many measures, for example, not just the grades themselves, but grade trends. So, did you maybe have a challenging start in your freshman year in high school, but then you really focused and turned a lot of effort toward your academic performance and your grades went up? Was there something that happened in your senior year? During the pandemic, we know that we have students whose parents might have lost a job, or somebody in their family has been ill. Those circumstances are certainly going to have an impact on a student's ability to perform, possibly impacting their ability to focus on their studies. Being able to look at the multiple aspects of the application through a holistic review process gives us the ability to make those connections and take them into consideration. It can provide context for the level of student participation in extracurriculars if they were, for example, taking care of a sick loved one over the last year. Or maybe through the review, we see that a student's GPA went down, but all previous semesters it was stellar. And then we read in their essay that they had a death in the family; that could clearly have had an impact. The application tells the story of each individual student.

UKNow: How should a student know if test optional is the right choice for them?

Harper: A student gets to choose, on their application, whether they want to be considered with the test score or without. Let’s say a student chooses to apply with their test score and have it be reviewed. And maybe they applied to a selective college which has a minimum math requirement for ACT/SAT to be admissible. If they meet the requirement through the standardized exam, great … if they don’t, we will review them using the test-optional approach of using their grade in their highest level of math in high school to see if they meet the requirement. So, basically, we will use the measures that benefit the student the most. Regardless of the choice, we are telling students not to wait to apply, especially if they are waiting to see if they can sit for a standardized exam.   

UKNow: How does this new test-optional application affect potential scholarships?

Harper: Philosophically, if the decision was made to move admissions to test optional due to access issues, we felt strongly that we needed to take the same approach with our merit aid awards. If you go to our website, you will see that all our merit aid programs have criteria with a test score, as well as criteria using an unweighted GPA for consideration. So students should apply early, with or without a test score, to be given consideration for these merit aid awards.


UK encourages potential students to apply to the Early Action deadline of Dec. 1. Students who submit all of the required materials by the Early Action deadline will receive a decision no later than Jan. 15. Students who apply by the regular decision deadline will receive notification no later than March 31. Students may check their application status anytime through UK's newly designed applicant portal and are encouraged to continue to check their email.

Visit to learn more about scholarship opportunities and UK's test-optional policy for the 2021-22 academic year.

Photo by Pete Comparoni | UKphoto
Pete Comparoni | UK Photo.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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