Rationalization and Student/ School Personhood in U.S. College Admissions: The Rise of Test-optional Policies, 1987 to 2015

Sociology of Education

This article examines the rise of ‘‘test-optional’’ college admissions policies since the 1990s. I argue that the rationalization of college admissions policies after World War II contributed to the rise of ‘‘meritocratic’’ stratification (in policy) and standardized tests, like the SAT, but it also led to the expansion and legitimation of the roles of student and school personhood in the admissions process. Schools more committed to enlarged conceptions of student personhood are more likely to adopt a test-optional policy, in order to recruit students who fit the distinctive characteristics of their school identity. To test the argument, I use a comprehensive data set of 1,640 colleges and universities in the United States and discrete-time event history models from 1987 to 2015. I also assess alternative arguments that emphasize economic or prestige-driven motives. Liberal arts colleges and schools committed to several dimensions of student personhood are more likely to adopt test-optional policies, net of other factors.