Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Rong Chen, PhD

Committee Member

Robert Kelchen, PhD

Committee Member

Alyssa McCloud, PhD


College Choice, SAT Optional, Test Optional, Financial Aid, Institutional Aid


The climate in college admissions is more competitive than ever, making understanding the college choice factors that contribute to a student’s enrollment decision increasingly important. Using admitted student data from a liberal arts institution in the northeast for fall 2008 to fall 2011, and after controlling for student preparedness, government financial aid awards, student and family characteristics, and student level of interest, I examine the relationship between (1) institutional financial aid variables, (2) a dummy variable of being test optional in the admissions process or not, and (3) the interaction between the two.

General findings of multivariate probit regression analysis reveal that admitted students who file a FAFSA positively respond to both merit based and need based institutional aid, meaning that the more institutional money they are awarded, the more likely they are to enroll, ceteris paribus. When interaction terms between the categorical test optional policy variable and the continuous institutional aid variables are included, results show that students who withhold test scores respond more strongly to a $1,000 increase in institutional aid. As a more specific example, in fall 2011 with an additional $1,000 in merit aid, the probability of enrollment for FAFSA filing score submitters is 0.0022, while the probability for those that withhold scores is 0.10346, holding all else constant. For the same group of students but with need based aid instead of merit, score submitters had a 0.0773 probability of enrolling at the institution with $1,000 more in need based aid, compared to 0.11833 for students that withhold scores, ceteris paribus.

This is an important finding for stakeholders interested in test optional policies and suggests that students who withhold their standardized test scores can be influenced with an incremental increase in institutional awards in a much stronger way than their comparable peers who submit test scores instead. For both FAFSA filing and non FAFSA filing students, an additional $1,000 in institutional award funding could influence their decision to enroll more strongly than an additional visit to campus, something that admissions professionals know tend to help students arrive at their decision to enroll.