Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Mar 12, 2023

Columbia University has announced that the submission of SAT/ACT scores by applicants will remain optional indefinitely. The College of William & Mary also announced a continuing test optional policy. Nick Anderson of The Washington Post has the story:


Columbia University, in New York, on Wednesday became the first Ivy League school to declare a full test-optional policy without any time limits. William & Mary, in Virginia, took the same step Thursday after analyzing results of a three-year trial.

“We want to empower students with more flexibility to demonstrate their talent when applying,” Tim Wolfe, the public university’s dean of admission, said in a statement. “Our admission process is comprehensive and multifaceted. As we found through the pilot, we continue to enroll highly qualified students — with or without a standardized test score — capable of succeeding academically and in contributing to the William & Mary community.”

FairTest, an organization critical of the SAT and ACT, counts more than 1,700 colleges and universities that are test-optional. Crucially, though, many of those policies are temporary. More than 200 schools have suspended testing requirements only for students entering in fall 2023, according to FairTest, and have not announced a testing policy that would apply to students who are now high school juniors.

Huge numbers of college-bound students still take the ACT and SAT every year. For them, test-optional policies pose a sometimes-vexing challenge: Should they submit scores or not? Many worry it will hurt their chances, especially at upper-tier schools, if they withhold scores. They also worry that, without scores, they might lose out on scholarships.

Another cadre of colleges and universities do not consider SAT or ACT scores even if applicants submit them. These test-free schools — more than 80, according to FairTest — include campuses of the University of California and California State University.

Priscilla Rodriguez, a College Board senior vice president, said in a statement: “We are pleased that students will continue to have the option of putting their best foot forward and submitting scores. And students want that choice.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University have reinstated test requirements for admission. Georgetown University and major public universities in Florida and Georgia also require the SAT or ACT.

[William & Mary] found, after analyzing the performance in college of students who enrolled recently, there was little difference between those applied with SAT or ACT scores versus those who didn’t. Retention rates from freshman to sophomore year were about the same. Grades at William & Mary were slightly lower for those who didn’t submit scores. “But not a lot,” said Michael R. Halleran, a professor of classical studies who participated in the analysis. “And they were still doing pretty well.”

Halleran said a faculty advisory committee unanimously supported continuing the test-optional policy indefinitely. “This is the national trend,” he said. “This is where the world is heading.”

Columbia’s announcement appeared to break new ground for the Ivy League. The university said, without timing caveats, that it is test-optional for applicants to its undergraduate college and engineering school. “We have designed our application to afford the greatest possible opportunity and flexibility for students to represent themselves fully and showcase their academic talents, interests and goals,” the statement said. “Standardized testing is not a required component of our application.”

The statement did not explicitly label the policy as “permanent.” But a university official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said Thursday there are no time limits anymore. Previously, Columbia had said it would be test-optional for students entering through fall 2024.

Among other Ivy schools, Harvard and Princeton universities have suspended admission testing requirements for students entering through fall 2026. Cornell University has said it is test-optional for several of its colleges and schools through fall 2024 — including engineering and arts and sciences — and test-free for certain other programs. The University of Pennsylvania is also test-optional through fall 2024. Temporary test-optional policies at Yale and Brown universities and Dartmouth College, covering applicants only for this fall, are likely to be updated soon.

Colorado College will no longer send data to US News to be used to formulate the publication's Best Colleges rankings:


Colorado College will no longer cooperate with U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the nation’s best colleges, making it the highest-ranked college to pull out of the undergraduate rankings in decades.

“We have a very strong vision for where we want to go in the future. Those metrics that U.S. News measures are just inconsistent with who we are,” said Colorado College President L. Song Richardson. The school has consistently ranked among the nation’s top 30 liberal-arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report’s measure, landing at No. 27 on the latest list.

Colorado’s withdrawal follows a string of defections by top-ranked law and medical schools since November, signaling that dissatisfaction with the rankings’ methodology and power is continuing to spread.

U.S. News has said it would continue to rank schools even if they don’t provide survey responses, relying instead on publicly available information. Chief Executive Eric Gertler said the publication provides prospective students with valuable data, and the rankings should be just one component of their decision-making process.

Ms. Richardson said U.S. News’ practice of looking at admitted students’ rank in their high-school class goes against Colorado College’s focus on creative students who may not have the highest grades. The peer academic-reputation survey that counts for 20% of the total ranking is little more than a beauty contest that some presidents try to game by currying favor with others who cast votes or by giving competitors low marks to boost themselves, she said.

She also said that while U.S. News & World Report had a noble intention by taking into account graduates’ debt loads, the ranking created a perverse incentive for schools to admit a wealthier group of students who wouldn’t need to borrow money to attend.

“Those metrics are about wealth and privilege, and we are about access, mobility, opportunity and transformation,” Ms. Richardson said. She said her leadership team surveyed students, alumni, parents and faculty before making the decision to withdraw.

Colorado College said it would study the impact of its rankings withdrawal on application numbers, fundraising success, alumni engagement and other areas, and share information with any other schools that are interested in seeing the potential effects of such a move.

“It’s a risky decision,” Ms. Richardson said. “We would love other schools to join us.”

With a Supreme Court decision looming in 2023 regarding affirmative action policies at US colleges and universities, and considering recent lawsuits regarding discrimination against Asians at elite schools, the abandonment of mandatory SAT/ACT score submission by applicants (as well as LSAT and MCAT scores) has raised suspicions that recent test optional/test blind policies are partially motivated by a desire to continue ethnicity-related admissions preferences despite an unfavorable ruling by the Court. The National Review editorial staff summarizes these concerns:


Last Wednesday, Columbia University formally announced that it would no longer require SAT/ACT scores for its applicants. It will permit applicants to submit test scores, but its stated criteria for candidate evaluation has become . . . holistic. Or, in its words, “purposeful and nuanced — respecting varied backgrounds, voices and experiences — in order to best determine an applicant’s suitability for admission and ability to thrive in our curriculum and our community, and to advance access to our educational opportunities.” Columbia isn’t the first institution of higher learning to make standardized-testing requirements optional, but it is the first Ivy League university to do so.

To be clear: Everyone in the world of academia understands this to be a pretext, and a shabby one at that. What Columbia is doing, and what more elite universities may do in the immediate future, is preparing itself for the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, cases argued jointly before the Court last October. The upcoming decision is expected, given the composition of the Court, to either strike down or severely limit the sorts of explicit affirmative-action regimes employed by college admissions ever since 2003’s egregious Grutter v. Bollinger decision. At stake here is the possessiveness elite universities (both public and private) feel over their ability to directly shape the racial and social (and now even political) demography of their matriculating classes. Choosing the composition of tomorrow’s new elite — which is what admissions committees understand themselves to be doing — is a privilege these institutions guard jealously.

...the unstated premise (by university admissions committees, at least) is that Asians are simply overperforming on these tests, and their presence is, well, glutting elite universities: too many successful Asian students, distorting the perfectly balanced multihued racial rainbow that DEI administrators insist makes for a properly “equitable” university. The grotesqueness of playing favorites on racial lines has always offended conservatives, but we cannot help but be even more outraged by noting that Columbia cares so much about this issue that they were willing to forgo standardized testing before they gave up legacy admissions. The message is clear: We want our community to look a certain way, and that’s that.

Stanford University's admissions rate last year was the lowest ever. Another notable aspect of the article excerpted below: the largest single ethnicity among enrollees in Stanford's class of 2026 was Asian, which is in part due to extremely high Asian scores on SAT/ACT tests. If such tests are removed from the admissions process, many Asian advocates worry that fewer Asians will be admitted to top-tier colleges and universities.


Stanford University’s first-year student admissions rate dropped to an all-time low for its current freshman class, with only 3.7% of a record-high number of applicants accepted, recently published data shows.

Of the 56,378 applicants for the 2022 entering class, 2,075 were accepted, according to data reported by the university. Of those, 1,736 students, or about 84%, enrolled.

A record 54% of those who enrolled are women, the Stanford Daily reported, up from 51% the previous year.

The largest racial/ethnic category for the class of 2026, Asian students, account for 29% of those enrolled, the highest percentage for that group among the four undergraduate classes now at Stanford. The percentage of freshman international students, 13%, is also the highest among the four current classes.

The proportion of white students in the class of 2026 is 22%, a share that has decreased for every class currently at Stanford, down from 27% in the class of 2023. Also down this year is the percentage of Black students enrolled, 7%, compared with 8% for the classes of 2025 and 2023 and 9% for the class of 2024.

Here's an interesting article from the Boston Globe that speculates that if the Supreme Court does rule against current affirmative action practices in college admissions, there might be a significant shift towards focusing on applicants from lower-income families, whatever their ethnic background.


The Supreme Court is widely expected to soon deliver a death sentence for affirmative action in college admissions. Decisions in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina are expected to be handed down in June. If this happens, it closes one door to what is considered diversity — but another could open.

Currently, students from the upper economic classes outnumber those from the bottom by almost 25 to 1 at the country’s most elite colleges. In a post-affirmative action world, looking at equity and equality through another lens — class — could level the playing field for low-income students of all backgrounds. In a society where racist structures persist, so does classism. The United States, among peers, has among the lowest income mobility. If equity, as well as equality, is a goal, then leveling the playing field for low-income students of all backgrounds could yield some surprising outcomes.

Georgetown scholar Richard Kahlenberg, author of “The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action,” testified as an expert witness for the Students for Fair Admissions, the group seeking to strike down affirmative action. The system, he told me recently, privileges students of all races who come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. “Universities have excluded most low-income students as it does require more financial resources than simply admitting wealthy students of whatever race,” he said. “So universities have shied away from admitting economically disadvantaged students.”

Kahlenberg put it simply to me in a recent interview: “The Supreme Court has always treated economic distinctions more leniently than racial, so there should be no strong argument against class-based affirmative action.”

Currently, less than 3 percent (or 66 of the total of 2,633 colleges) offer both need-blind admissions and meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for four years — a student’s ability to pay is normally factored into whether they are allowed in. To address equity, colleges could ask prospective students questions about their situation to establish financial precarity. These could include: how many times they have moved, how many jobs they and/or their caregiver(s) have held down, whether a caregiver has filed for bankruptcy, or whether they have had access to a school guidance counselor for advice.

Art Coleman of the education consultancy Education Counsel told me that this is “a moment both of challenge and of opportunity for colleges. This is a chance to think about the potential consequences.” The academic industry, he said, has had a shorthand that perpetuated a class hierarchy while only “superficially” addressing diversity.

“A conservative Supreme Court decision will lead to ‘liberal’ results, opening the door to working-class students of all races,” predicts Kahlenberg. Are we ready?

Like many states, Illinois has seen its SAT scores decline significantly in recent years.


Illinois 11th grade students scored on average 486.4 on the reading portion of the SAT and 473.8 on math in spring 2022. This marked a nearly 10- and 13-point drop in reading and math since the previous academic year, and an 11- and 23-point drop since 2019, the last test year prior to the pandemic.

Since 2017, the first year in which Illinois used the SAT rather than the ACT to measure high school students’ academic progress, average SAT scores statewide have decreased each year.

Illinois bucked the national trend of decreased participation on the SAT, because Illinois requires all high school juniors to take the SAT to graduate from high school.

Chicago Public School students scored lower on average on the SAT in 2022 compared to the previous year. The 2022 average reading score was almost seven points lower than the 2021 score, while the average math score was 10 points lower. The drop is even more dramatic when compared to the final test year before the pandemic. Average SAT scores in CPS were eight points higher in reading and nearly 24 points higher in math in 2019 compared to 2022.