When the pandemic began, nearly all colleges and universities in the United States dropped their testing requirements when it became impossible for students in some areas of the country to find a test center and date reliably. Then, as the pandemic continued, many colleges extended their policies for another year or longer. Initially, however, it seemed like the Ivy League was eager to return to requiring test scores.
Then, in December 2021, Harvard University shook the testing and college admissions world by declaring that they would not require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores through the next four years (that is, through the high school Class of 2025). Meanwhile, a few other Ivy League schools (including Cornell University and Stanford University) had already extended their test-optional policies through 2023.
Well, for one thing, the number of applications to top colleges shot up once the testing requirement disappeared. Given that universities are always eager to increase their selectivity, this was a boon to schools like Harvard and Yale, where acceptance rates had plateaued or even ticked up prior to the pandemic. Without the SAT/ACT requirement, however, acceptance rates at these top colleges managed to sink even lower, to 4% or even 3%.
Meanwhile, college admissions offices are paying more attention to equity than ever before and have begun to take claims against standardized testing increasingly seriously, especially evidence suggesting that these tests are unfair to low-income, minority, and other historically marginalized students. Their argument is: if we can successfully evaluate students without the test, why not do so?
It’s important to remember that reports of the SAT’s impending demise have oft been overstated; when the University of Chicago dropped their SAT/ACT requirement back in 2018, many thought similarly selective schools would immediately follow suit. The same line of thought arose when the University of California announced their test-blind pilot last year.
Furthermore, the College Board (the organization that designs and implements the SAT) has responded to this cascade of test-optional policies by announcing forthcoming changes to the SAT that they argue will make the test fairer, more equitable, and more accessible. Whether these changes change colleges’ calculations about the test remains to be seen.
But even if one school’s policy isn’t enough to change the landscape for good, particularly if the College Board’s changes to the test are convincing, the decline in SAT/ACT requirement policies for college admissions seem to be snowballing. If things continue on this path, we may be looking at an entirely test-optional future in college admissions.
So what does this mean for your college admissions process? Ultimately, SAT/ACT scores are just one part of the college admissions process. The upside of these changes is that if you’re a strong test taker, you’ll still have the option to showcase that particular strength in your applications. But if you’re not, the landscape is definitely improving for you—and is likely to continue to do so over the coming months and years.
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