What to Know About Admissions Test Requirements for Online Degree Programs

What to Know About Admissions Test Requirements for Online Degree Programs

    8 Things to Know About Online Degree Test Requirements

    Students with several years of prior work experience may be able to waive SAT, ACT, GRE or GMAT score requirements.

    WHEN LOOKING INTO different online graduate analytics programs a few years ago, Laura Wood created a detailed spreadsheet listing her schools of interest. She added information about admissions requirements for each, including whether she needed to submit GMAT or GRE scores.
    Some programs didn't require these tests at all. But the now-32-year-old California resident did submit GMAT scores when applying to the online dual MBA and master's degree program in business analytics at the Indiana University—Bloomington Kelley School of Business. She's set to graduate this year.
    Wood, who wanted a graduate degree to advance her career in analytics, had taken the GMATin the summer of 2016, preparing in part by taking practice tests online. She started the online program soon afterward.
    "I wanted to continue working while going to school, so online made the most sense, in terms of my schedule and being able to do my work and do school and not have to drive two hours to get to class," she says, noting that her success on the GMAT led to her receiving a small scholarship.
    Prospective online students may need to submit SAT or ACT scores when applying to undergraduate programs and the GMAT or GRE for graduate programs, though this varies.
    "I have mixed feelings about test scores myself. I think they show a snapshot in time of how a student does. Part of that is how they test – do they have test anxiety or not?" says Vickie Cook, executive director of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service at the University of Illinois—Springfield. "On the other hand, I know that there is substantial evidence that students who have certain levels of competency that they bring in that's reflected through that test score are more successful."
    Here are eight things to know about online degree program admissions test requirements.
    Online and on-campus degree programs typically have the same general requirements. At the University of Central Florida, for instance, "We don't differentiate between admissions standards for online learners," says Jenny Sumner, executive director of UCF's Online Connect Center, which offers online student support services.
    But many programs allow students to waive test requirements if they have a certain number of years of prior work experience in a related field, though it varies how competitive it can be to receive one of these waivers. That can be good news for prospective online students, many of whom are working adults.
    At the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management, a vast majority of online applicants waive the GMAT or GRE requirement, says Amy McHale, the school's assistant dean for master's programs.
    "We value that work experience and the fact that it tells us additional things about an applicant," she says.
    Overall, schools' admissions test requirements and policies vary. For example, some online MBA programs allow prospective graduate students to apply without having taken the GMAT or GRE, whereas others don't. This information is typically listed on a school's website. Experts also suggest consulting an admissions officer with any questions.
    Prospective online undergraduates with few to no previously earned credits may be required to take a placement or readiness test if their program doesn't require SAT or ACT scores, or if they fail to meet the minimum exam score requirements.
    Policies also vary across institutions with regard to whether admissions test scores from several years ago are considered valid, experts say.
    "Universities have different policies on that, but typically they're not going to take anything that's older than five years," Cook says.
    Previously earned credit hours may also allow you to forgo testing. Many online students, especially those at the undergraduate level, enter their programs having already completed some credit hours. Prospective students should look into their school or program's policies regarding test requirements for transfer students, experts say.
    At UCF Online, only undergraduates who enter with fewer than 30 credits have to submit SAT or ACT scores, for instance, according to the school's website.
    You should start researching the requirements well in advance. Being proactive is important, especially because students may need to retake an exam if they don't score in the required or preferred range, Cook says.
    "You could prepare for the test ahead of time; just make sure that your timeline is on track," Cook says.
    Admissions test requirements can be a sign of rigor. Cook says programs that do require test scores may demonstrate to employers that they admit diligent students.
    "That should make them feel a little more confident as well about the programs that they've chosen," Cook says. "Because they typically show that there is some level of quality in that program."
    She adds, "That doesn't mean that programs that don't have a test are not of quality. It just means that ones that do have the test requirement are looking for students at a certain level."
    There are many resources to help you prepare for an exam. Experts say prospective students have options for test prep classes, both in person near their homes and online. That's the case for companies such as Kaplan Test Prep and the Princeton Review.
    "They're giving you tips and they're having you take practice tests," says Kim Scalzo, executive director at Open SUNY at the State University of New York, a collaboration between 64 SUNY campuses that offer online programs. "And so the more practice tests you can get under their belt, I think the more confident students are going to be taking the exams."
    There are also a variety of free and low-cost resources that can be found through an online search – including practice questions, general topic reviews, webinars and instructional videos.
    Students whose employers pay tuition typically must still fulfill test requirements. One should not assume that just because his or her employer is paying the tuition that he or she will be exempt from taking an admissions exam.
    "The key thing is to remember, I suppose, is that admission standards are admissions standards for the university," Sumner says. "We don't make any distinction on the modality of how the student is going to take his or her courses."
    A 2018 survey by Aslanian Market Research and Learning House found that 23 percent of employed online undergraduate students and 32 percent of employed online graduate students used a tuition reimbursement benefit from their job.
    Admissions officers consider more than just your test scores. An applicant's resume, essays and other materials also give them a good sense of a student's skills, experience and preparedness to succeed academically, experts say.
    "Test scores are just one part of the picture in our programs where they are required for admission," Scalzo says. "They're looking for other things as well."
    Eight important things to remember about admissions test requirements for online degree programs include:
    • Online and on-campus degree programs typically have the same general requirements.
    • Overall, schools' admissions test requirements and policies vary.
    • Previously earned credit hours may also allow you to forgo testing.
    • You should start researching the requirements well in advance.
    • Admissions test requirements can be a sign of rigor.
    • There are many resources to help you prepare for an exam.
    • Students whose employers pay tuition typically must still fulfill test requirements.
    • Admissions officers consider more than just your test scores.