Affordability Remains Top Consideration on Where and Whether Students Attend College

DEIA 2022 images
(Mark Herreid/Mark Herreid -

Survey results released this summer by EAB of nearly 5,000 students who graduated from high school in 2021 revealed that test-optional admissions policies have had significant DEI impacts on college applications.

Overall, 15% of Gen Z students say they applied to a school specifically because it did not require them to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application. Black and Hispanic/Latinx students were much more likely (24% and 21%, respectively) than their White or Asian counterparts (12% and 15%, respectively) to apply to a school because of its test-optional policy.

“The majority of higher ed institutions suspended or permanently discontinued testing requirements during the pandemic, and many schools still do not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores,” said EAB’s dean of enrollment management Madeleine Rhyneer. “Unfortunately, schools aren’t doing a very good job of making it clear to students whether their institution is test-optional for every academic program and scholarship. Schools looking to diversify enrollment would be well-served by clarifying and promoting their testing policies.”

The new EAB survey also showed that college affordability continues to be the top consideration in whether and where students apply and enroll. Thirtysix percent say they picked their institution for its “affordable tuition.” Roughly one-third of Black (32%) and Hispanic/Latinx (35%) respondents who decided not to attend college this year said that cost concerns drove their decision.

As the number of high school graduates who enroll in college continues to decline, schools are getting more creative in how they attract and engage prospective students. Some have begun offering $1,000 “bonus” scholarships, added to the aid package when a student enrolls, to incentivize applicants to make a campus visit. This bonus scholarship incentive was favored by 64% of EAB survey respondents, making it far more popular than other potential choices, including free school apparel (39%) or reimbursement for campus visit travel costs (39%).

Not all students are interested or able to make in-person campus visits a staple of their college search experience. Seventy-five percent of survey respondents said they took at least one virtual campus tour during 2021, a 50% increase from the 2020 school year.

“Getting a prospective student to visit your campus in person has been a staple of college recruiting for years,” Rhyneer added. “It makes perfect sense since a campus visit is strongly correlated with a student’s decision to enroll. However, since many families lack the resources or flexibility to travel, creating an effective virtual tour of your campus has become critically important, especially for schools looking to diversify their applicant pool.”

EAB collected survey responses from 4,848 students who graduated from high school in 2021. The report also includes analysis of student behavioral data from more than 1,100 partner colleges and universities.

From kindergarten to college to career, EAB partners with leaders and practitioners to accelerate progress and drive results across five major areas: enrollment, student success, institutional strategy, data analytics, and DEI.