Students with higher GPAs enroll at NIU after test-free admissions

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Northern Star File Photo

The NIU Huskie Pride Statue and Holmes Student Center are recognizable landmarks to help new students find their way around campus.

Elisa Reamer, News Reporter

DeKALB — NIU offers merit scholarships for first-year students ranging from $1,000 to $7,000. To receive a merit scholarship, incoming students need a GPA between 3.0-4.0. 

“We saw a large increase in students with 3.8 and above,” said Sol Jensen, vice president for enrollment management, marketing and communications. “It really did help bring in a lot of great academic performing students, who in the past may not have even applied to NIU because they may have had a lower test score that would not have qualified them for a scholarship.” 

Jensen said almost three times the number of 4.0 students applied to NIU for the Fall 2021 semester and received the $7,000 merit scholarship, which equates to $28,000 for all four years. Around 70% of first-year students received a merit scholarship for the Fall 2021 semester. 

“In its first full year of utilizing test-free criteria for admissions and merit scholarships, NIU has attracted the most diverse incoming class in university history,” according to an NIU Today article

“Nearly 70% of all incoming freshmen identify as persons of color, with 38% identifying as Black, 21.5% as Hispanic, 4% as Asian and 6% as ‘other,’” according to the article. “The remaining 30% identified as white. Among incoming students, 57% were the first in their family to attend college.”

Jensen, NIU President Lisa Freeman and others in leadership within the financial aid office implemented the test-free admissions after examining why strong academic students were not staying at NIU. They concluded that it was because these students did not receive scholarships and were struggling financially. 

Students from high-income families usually receive higher test scores since they come from better-resourced schools that prepare them to perform better, which would lead to them receiving a merit scholarship, Jensen said.

“Our hope is that not only has this opened up more opportunity, more access for students of all backgrounds but that it’s also going to help them to retain and complete through graduation because now they’re receiving that scholarship for the four years, as long as they meet all the remaining criteria,” Jensen said. 

For students that have under a 3.0 GPA, NIU will perform a holistic review process on the individual. 

One of the processes is for applicants that have between a 2.5 and 2.99 high school GPA is called an admission review. 

The director of admissions reviews those students by seeing what grades they have received in their classes and may require a short personal statement from the student explaining why they may not have performed so well in a class or during a semester, Jensen said.

“(Admission review) allows the opportunity to have a good conversation with that student if they had a bad semester,” Jensen said. “How have they picked it back up or overcome, you know, really kind of gets in that motivation.” 

The other new process is called the University Review Committee, and is made up of 11 voting members, which is for applicants that have a 2.0 through 2.49 high school GPA.

This committee does a thorough search through the students’ transcripts and asks them for personal statements to see what their motivation is for being successful at NIU, Jensen said. 

“The University Review Committee has the full decision-making authority, and then also any other appeal for admission,” Jensen said. “Anyone else that’s denied admission can appeal, and it would come through the University Review Committee as well.” 

Before this year, students would automatically be enrolled if they received a high school GPA of 2.75 with a 21 on the ACT. Since the elimination of test scores, students with a high school GPA of 3.0 are now automatically enrolled.

More than 75% of colleges and universities in the United States do not require ACT or SAT scores either through a test-blind or a test-optional process, according to an Inside Higher Ed article.