Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

May 08, 2024

Cornell University will reinstate its SAT/ACT requirement for students applying for entry in 2026.

The Cornell press release offers insight into the decision:


Though standardized test scores are imperfect measures of a student’s aptitude and potential, the data suggests that when taken in context, these scores provide valuable insights into a student’s potential for academic success while at Cornell, and thereby help to ensure that admitted students are likely to thrive academically. After accounting for other predictors, including high school GPA, student demographics and high school characteristics, those who were admitted with test scores tended to have somewhat stronger GPAs and were more likely to remain in good academic standing.

The data also showed that test-optional policies may have inadvertent consequences. Cornell’s fall 2022 New Student Survey showed that 91% of matriculating first-year students took the SAT and/or the ACT at least once (and 70% had taken multiple tests), but only 28% of applicants opted to provide test scores even though doing so could have advantaged them.

“While it may seem counterintuitive, considering these test scores actually promotes access to students from a wider range of backgrounds and circumstances,” said Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff. “Our analysis indicates that instituting the testing requirement likely enhances, rather than diminishes, our ability to identify and admit qualified students.”

Higher Ed Dive has additional details regarding the Cornell announcement:


Cornell University will once again require standardized test scores for students seeking undergraduate admission for fall 2026, making it the latest Ivy League college to shed its test-optional policy.

The university will remain test-optional for applicants seeking admission for fall 2025, according to a release Monday, though Cornell encouraged students to still submit SAT or ACT scores.

Like other high-profile colleges that revived testing requirements, Cornell cited concerns that some students were withholding scores that could have benefitted their applications. The university also referenced internal data showing that admitted students who included their test scores had “somewhat stronger GPAs” at Cornell compared to those who didn’t.

A Cornell task force — composed of eight faculty members and administrators — examined the impact of the university shedding testing requirements in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Five of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges had switched to test-optional policies, while the university’s other three colleges had gone test-free, meaning admissions officials don’t review scores even if students submit them.

According to the task force’s seven-page report, their members found no “clear indication” that the test-optional policy increased diversity among first-year students.

They also found that applicants who provided exam scores to Cornell’s test-optional colleges were significantly more likely to be admitted. Just 24% of applicants submitted scores for undergraduate admission in fall 2023. But more than 42% of accepted students sent in their exam results.

The task force voiced concerns that students were withholding scores that could aid their applications.

“Read with an appreciation for context, an applicant with a test score that may be below the average for Cornell students but that is well above average for their high school may be considered a desirable admit,” they wrote. “Test scores enable those types of decisions.”

However, the test score requirement situation at Cornell is more complex than at most Ivies. For the 2025 application cycle, four of Cornell's colleges will remain "score free", and at the other five colleges, scores will be "recommended". SAT/ACT scores will be required for all nine of Cornell colleges for the fall of 2026 and beyond. Forbes examines the details of Cornell's new testing policies:


After several Ivy League schools announced their return to standardized testing, Cornell has joined the list with a phased plan over a longer period of time. Unlike the undergraduate colleges of Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale, Cornell—which is the largest Ivy—is tailoring the requirement to fit its individual colleges and schools.

The university’s structure is further complicated in that it is both a private and a public institution. Cornell University is a private research university that is part of the Ivy League. However, four of its colleges receive public funding and are operated under contract with the State of New York.
Cornell uses its own terminology to express the requirements. “Score-free” means a college within the university will not use test scores in evaluating applicants.

---Four of the school’s units will remain score-free for applicants in the coming cycle: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, and Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

---For the fall 2025 cohort of students, five colleges and schools will be what Cornell calls “test-recommended.” Standardized test scores will not be required, but recommended at the following:

College of Arts & Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Human Ecology, Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, and School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Looking ahead, the requirement will become simpler for students applying in the admissions cycle beginning in fall 2025 for fall 2026 enrollment. It may not be what students like to hear, but it will be a uniform policy: All undergraduate colleges and schools of Cornell University will require standardized testing.

As of this writing, there are only three Ivy-League holdouts on test-optional policies.

The University of Pennsylvania’s website confirms “it will remain test-optional for the 2024-25 admissions cycle.” UPenn specifies, “Applicants who do not submit SAT or ACT scores will not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process.”

Columbia’s website says, “For students who choose to submit testing, we welcome this information and are pleased to include standardized tests in your application review. Students who choose not to submit test scores, however, will not be at a disadvantage in our process.”

Princeton’s website claims it will remain test-optional through the fall of 2025, and students who do not submit a test score “will not be disadvantaged in our process.”

Nevertheless, the other Ivies said much the same—until they didn’t.

The University of North Carolina system is considering the reinstatement of SAT/ACT requirement for certain students, as covered in the News Observer:


The UNC System is likely to reinstate requirements that at least some students seeking admission to public universities in North Carolina submit standardized test scores as part of their application.

Applicants to any school in the system are required to hold a weighted high school GPA of at least 2.5. That requirement, which has been in place since 2008 — and remained while the system made submitting test scores optional during the pandemic — would stay under a new policy approved last week by a committee of the Board of Governors, which oversees the 17-campus system.

But the policy would implement the following changes regarding standardized test scores:

Applicants entering a university in the fall 2024 or spring 2025 semesters who do not hold at least a 2.5 GPA would be eligible for — but not guaranteed — admission by submitting an ACT score of at least 19, out of a possible 36, or an SAT score of at least 1010, out of 1600.

Applicants who are applying to enter a university in those semesters who hold at least a 2.5 GPA would not be required to submit test scores, but would have the option to provide them as part of their application, if they wish to do so.

Applicants entering a university in the fall 2025 or spring 2026 semesters would be required to hold at least a 2.5 GPA. Applicants whose GPAs fall between 2.5 and 2.8 would be required to submit an ACT or SAT score, but there would be no minimum score required.

Applicants entering a university in the fall 2026 semester and at any point afterward would be required to hold at least a 2.5 GPA. Applicants whose GPAs fall between 2.5 and 2.8 would be required to submit an ACT score of at least 17 or an SAT score of at least 930.

The policy would allow the chancellor of any university in the UNC System to require students with GPAs higher than 2.8 to also submit test scores, pending the approval of the system president and the Board of Governors two academic years in advance.

With the committee approving the new policy, it’s now set for a vote at the May 23 meeting of the full, 24-member Board of Governors. Policies on the board’s consent agenda, which contains several items that can all be voted on at one time, are generally passed without further discussion by the board — meaning the testing requirements are very likely to pass and go into effect on the timeline outlined in the policy.

Evan Mandery, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and the author of the book "Poison Ivy: How Elite Colleges Divide Us", has penned an op-ed for TIME magazine titled "Reinstating the SATs Will Only Make Rich Kids Richer":


At America’s wealthiest colleges, the SAT is back with a vengeance, and it’s easy enough to see who will suffer: socioeconomically disadvantaged students of color.

Over the past few weeks, Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, and Harvard have all announced that they will require standardized test scores from all applicants next fall after suspending their use during the pandemic.

Between the spring of 2020 and the winter of 2021, the number of four-year universities and colleges with test-optional policies doubled from 713 to 1,350 including, notably, all eight Ivy League schools. Colleges touted the shift as progressive. “Students have never been treated as numbers,” Colorado College posted on its website. “Our test-optional policy allows our team to identify the most qualified candidates for admission while also increasing access for first-generation, low-income, and traditionally underserved students.” Even Harvard was on board. “People somehow think that if you don’t have test scores it’s very hard to evaluate an application, but you have teacher reports, you have grades,” Harvard’s admissions dean Bill Fitzsimmons said in 2022. “There’s an enormous amount of academic information.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in SFFA v. Harvard, which effectively ended race-based affirmative action, it was possible to envision career-defining standardized testing heading for the scrap bin of history, too. After all, the SAT and ACT have long been known to correlate closely with wealth. One recent study found that students from families in the top 1% of the income distribution are 13 times more likely than students from the bottom 20 percent to score 1300 or higher on the SAT. Just 2.5% of students from the lowest income quintile manage to reach 1300.

If colleges wanted to preserve diversity—and could no longer consider an applicant’s race—surely they could no longer place great weight on a metric that functions principally as a marker of the applicant’s wealth.

Not so fast.

Elite colleges are whistling quite a different tune than they were just two years ago. The reimplementation of standardized testing has coincided with a spate of personal anecdotes, research, and articles extolling their putative benefits. Christina Paxson, the president of Brown University, recently touted the SAT and ACT for revealing “useful information about whether students will, on average, be academically successful at Brown.”

One could understand the need for standardized testing at public colleges, where more than a third of entering students fail to graduate within six years. But it’s a curious argument to be advanced by Brown, where the six-year graduation rate is 96% and for Pell Grant recipients is 93%.

Another line of defense is that the SAT is the best friend of the downtrodden. Harvard economist David Deming said, “My worry is that if we get rid of the SAT, you’re getting rid of the only way that a low-income student who’s academically talented has to distinguish themselves.” It’s again a curious argument to be made, especially by schools like Brown and Harvard, each of which counts itself among the 38 American colleges where more students come from families in the top 1% of the income distribution than the bottom 60%. This is true even though Brown has an endowment of $6.6 billion and Harvard the nation’s largest—$50.9 billion.

It's even more curious, still, given that in the same letter in which Paxson announced the return to standardized testing, she reaffirmed Brown’s commitment to early decision—which has long been known to hurt poorer students who can’t afford to commit to a college without comparing financial aid packages—and to the preference it affords to the children, of alumni, donors, faculty, staff, and athletic recruits—pathways that overwhelmingly benefit rich, white applicants, otherwise known as “ALDC” applicants. At Harvard, for example, 43% of white students are “ALDC.” Research shows that about three quarters of these students would have been rejected without their ALDC status.

So what’s really going on?

To understand, one need only take a closer look at the most widely cited study by Deming and his colleagues Raj Chetty and John Friedman. Standardized test scores, the story goes, are a much better predictor of college success than high school GPA. What are their principal markers of “college success?” Attending an “elite graduate school” and “working at a prestigious firm.” The outcome they’re looking at is the accumulation of wealth not knowledge. Is it any surprise that rich kids both outperform lower-SES kids on the SAT and at getting investment banking jobs at Goldman Sachs and consulting jobs at McKinsey?

What if these researchers and college administrators instead adopted this definition of success: the student maintained a college GPA of over 3.0, learned and grew as a person, and got a significant benefit in terms of economic mobility? By this standard, virtually every socioeconomically disadvantaged kid admitted to one of these prestigious, highly endowed colleges is a success.

But this interpretation of the data and definition of the object of college would be decidedly inconvenient and mask the true object of elite colleges: to make rich kids richer.

An op-ed in The New York Times by Daniel Currell (formerly deputy undersecretary and senior adviser at the Department of Education from 2018 to 2021) asserts that "This Is Peak College Admissions Insanity":


Selective college admissions have been a vortex of anxiety and stress for what seems like forever, inducing panic in more top high school seniors each year. But the 2023-24 admissions season was not just an incremental increase in the frantic posturing and high-pressure guesswork that make this annual ritual seem like academic Hunger Games. This year was different. A number of factors — some widely discussed, some little noticed — combined to push the process into a new realm in which the old rules didn’t apply and even the gatekeepers seemed not to know what the new rules were.

It happened, as these things often do, first gradually and then all at once.

It started with a precipitous rise in the number of people clamoring to get in. The so-called Ivy-Plus schools — the eight members of the Ivy League plus M.I.T., Duke, Chicago and Stanford — collectively received about 175,000 applications in 2002. In 2022, the most recent year for which totals are available, they got more than 590,000, with only a few thousand more available spots.

The quality of the applicants has risen also. In 2002, the nation produced 134 perfect ACT scores; in 2023 there were 2,542. Over the same period, the United States — and beyond it, the world — welcomed a great many more families into the ranks of the wealthy, who are by far the most likely to attend an elite college. Something had to give.

The first cracks appeared around the rules that had long governed the process and kept it civilized, obligating colleges to operate on the same calendar and to give students time to consider all offers before committing. A legal challenge swept the rules away, freeing the most powerful schools to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

One clear result was a drastic escalation in the formerly niche admissions practice known as early decision.

Then Covid swept through, forcing colleges to let students apply without standardized test scores — which, as the university consultant Ben Kennedy says, “tripled the number of kids who said to themselves, ‘Hey, I’ve got a shot at admission there.’” More applications, more market power for the schools and, for the students, an ever smaller chance of getting in.

Last year, the Supreme Court’s historic decision ending race-based affirmative action left colleges scrambling for new ways to preserve diversity and students groping in the dark to figure out what schools wanted.

Finally, this year the whole financial aid system exploded into spectacular disarray. Now, a month after most schools sent out the final round of acceptances, many students still don’t have the information they need to determine if they can afford college. Some will delay attending, and some will forgo it entirely, an outcome that will have lasting implications for them and, down the line, for the economy as a whole.

These disparate changes had one crucial thing in common: Almost all of them strengthened the hand of highly selective colleges, allowing them to push applicants into more constricted choices with less information and less leverage. The result is that elite admissions offices, which have always tried to reduce the uncertainty in each new year’s decisions, are now using their market power to all but eliminate it. This means taking no chances in pursuit of a high yield, the status-bestowing percentage of admitted students who enroll. But low uncertainty for elite colleges means the opposite for applicants — especially if they can’t pay the full tuition rate.

Canh Oxelson, the executive director of college counseling at the Horace Mann School in New York, says: “This is as much uncertainty as we’ve ever seen. Affirmative action, the FAFSA debacle, test-optionality — it has shown itself in this one particular year. Colleges want certainty, and they are getting more. Families want certainty and they are getting less.”

In 2024, the only applicants who could be certain of an advantage were those whose parents had taken the wise precaution of being rich.

Remarkably, students still take the SAT and ACT in the same numbers as before the pandemic, but far fewer disclose what they got. Cindy Zarzuela, an adviser with the nonprofit Yonkers Partners in Education who works with Rania and about 90 other students, said all her students took the SAT this year. None of them sent their scores to colleges.

These days, Cornell, for example, admits roughly 40 percent of its incoming class without a test score. At schools like the University of Wisconsin or the University of Connecticut, the percentage is even higher. In California, schools rarely accept scores at all, being in many cases not only test-optional, but also “test-blind.”

The high-water mark of test-optionality, however, was also its undoing.

Applicants tended to submit their scores only if they were above the school’s reported median, a pattern that causes that median to be recalibrated higher and higher each year. When Cornell went test-optional, its 25th percentile score on the math SAT jumped from 720 to 750. Then it went to 760. The ceiling is 800, so standardized tests had begun to morph from a system of gradients into a yes/no question: Did you get a perfect score? If not, don’t mention it.

The irony, however, was that in the search for a diverse student body, many elite colleges view strong-but-not-stellar test scores as proof that a student from an underprivileged background could do well despite lacking the advantages of the kids from big suburban high schools and fancy prep schools. Without those scores, it might be harder to make the case.

Multiply that across the board, and the result was that test-optional policies made admission to an elite school less likely for some diverse or disadvantaged applicants. Georgetown and M.I.T. were first to reinstate test score requirements, and so far this year Harvard, Yale, Brown, Caltech, Dartmouth and Cornell have announced that they will follow. There may be more to come.

Journalist and author Jeffrey Selingo has written a longform article for New York Magazine titled "Inside the Craziest College-Admissions Season Ever."


As this year’s college-admissions season nears its close, with decisions arriving from schools this month, it is already shaping up as the craziest ever. Applications to the 1,000-plus colleges that are part of the Common Application are up 6 percent over last year’s total, which was already a record. It’s a continuation of a dynamic that began in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic forced hundreds of top-ranked colleges to drop their requirements for standardized-test scores and generated a surge of applications as a result.

As students spray more applications into the system, colleges are spending more and more time thinking about how to forecast who will actually show up if accepted — and shaping their policies to lock in those students and maintain or increase their yield rates. They have rolled out a complicated menu of admissions options, each with its own requirements, deadlines, restrictions, and risks for students — but all designed to bring as much certainty to the college as possible.

Admissions policies instituted by schools at or near the top of the rankings have ripple effects at less-selective schools downstream, which, in turn, make changes to protect their yield rates. For example, less-selective schools have embraced a strategy of increasingly deferring applicants in early rounds to see if they’re serious — or even denying them outright when the school thinks it’s being used as a backup.

The more applications they have, the easier it is for schools to meet their diversity goals, admissions deans told me. That’s why any effort to curtail application growth or the tactics colleges use to manage yield is met with resistance by colleges. One oft-repeated idea is to lower the cap on the number of applications a single student can file through the Common Application (now 20). The Common App has 1,100 institutions as members and it’s frequently blamed for the ballooning application totals.

All this reveals that the ultimate win in the game of admissions is less about the applicant and their needs, and much more about a college protecting its prestige (or better yet, improving its standing) as well as its bottom line in filling a class that meets certain enrollment and revenue goals. So, for now, we’re stuck with this system until one set of players in the game decides to make a different move or an external force orders a change to the rules.

Scammers are taking advantage of the perceived power of good SAT and ACT scores to open college doors by defrauding parents through a scheme involving test prep materials:


It’s once again time for high school students to cram for their college entrance exams, including the SAT and the ACT.

It’s also a ripe opportunity for con artists claiming to sell study materials that can boost test scores.

“The parents are the target of this scam. They will get a call from an unsolicited number claiming to represent the College Board. They will say their student or child requested study materials at school, and they’re willing to get it to them but they have to put a deposit down,” said Georgia Better Business Bureau representative Taelore Hicks.

The Georgia BBB has received nearly a half dozen complaints from parents victimized by the scam. What officials say is most disturbing is the crooks have specific information about their children.

“It is a very believable scam because these scammers somehow have access to the student’s school information, first and last name, where they are taking the tests. They get the information from anywhere, the number one thing being social media. Be careful about what you’re posting on social media. They also get it from public records, things like that,” said Hicks.

Hicks says the caller typically asks the parents for a $250 credit card deposit but adds that the charge will be refunded if the test preparation material is returned within 30 days. The material is never sent, and the deposit is gone.

“We also found out that these kids never requested the materials,” said Hicks.

“The College Board on their website released a warning because they know these things are coming around. They said they would never ask for money via the phone, and they are not going to call you."