Reviewing the Research on Informed Self-Placement

Practices, Justifications, Outcomes, and Limitations

By Tiffany Morton

Many colleges are exploring alternative college readiness assessment models to increase student enrollment and success in entry-level, or gateway, college courses and to more accurately identify students who would benefit from developmental instruction. Informed self-placement (ISP), an emerging method that is currently being studied by the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness, encourages colleges to engage students as active participants in their placement. With ISP, students make their own placement decisions after considering information from the college about placement policies, available courses, and other relevant topics.

This review of the research provides a discussion of the methods used to implement ISP and justifications for its use, as well as an overview of the available data depicting how students perform when ISP is used and recommendations for future research.


  • The foundational components of ISP are student agency and college guidance. According to the literature, practices labeled as ISP include these components in different ways and to vastly different degrees.
  • There is a lack of consensus on enrollment trends with ISP. Generally, fewer students enroll in developmental courses and more students enroll in gateway courses—though there are some exceptions to this rule—including when ISP is implemented along with curricular changes that combine developmental and gateway coursework.
  • Studies suggest that ISP has either a positive or null effect on student performance, even when a larger number of students opt to enroll in gateway courses. Performance outcomes by subgroup are inconsistent across studies.
  • More rigorous study is necessary before it is possible to understand the effect of ISP on enrollment and student performance. Future studies should include subgroup analyses, if possible, to help generate consensus on the relationship between ISP and performance outcomes for particular populations.

Document Details

Publication Type
June 2022
Morton, Tiffany. 2022. “Reviewing the Research on Informed Self-Placement.” New York: MDRC.