Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jun 24, 2020

The spate of test optional announcements among highly selective colleges and universities for the freshman class of 2021 continues:

Yale University has announced that SAT/ACT scores will not be required of applicants for the next admissions cycle.

[Excerpts from the article linked above]

“All high school seniors now have a straightforward option: Submit SAT or ACT scores if you wish,” [Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah] Quinlan said. “I know that students will have many priorities when schools eventually reopen; I believe that completing standardized tests in time for an upcoming application deadline should not be among them.”

The other seven Ivy League schools have also adopted test-optional policies for the next cycle.

“Like most Ivy League schools, Yale recognizes the disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic on the ability of applicants to test and did the right thing,” said Bob Schaeffer, the interim executive director of FairTest, an organization opposed to the use of standardized tests in college admissions. “The right first thing [was that] Yale both suspended the basic requirements and eliminated subjects from the admission process entirely. Both of those are excellent initiatives. Our hope would be that Yale would closely monitor the results, and see that test-optional admissions is superior in many ways than requiring those continue the policy down the line.”

In addition to adopting a temporary test optional policy, Princeton University is also suspending its early admissions policy, instituting a single application deadline of Jan. 1, 2021.

Stanford University will become test optional for the upcoming application cycle, but "intends to reinstate the SAT or ACT testing requirement for the Class of 2026..."

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions at Duke University (which is also dropping its test requirement for this cycle) '"said his office will take the year to assess the future role of standardized tests in the admissions process, particularly “with respect to the impact of these tests on our ability to recruit and enroll students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.”'

Northwestern University has also announced a temporary test optional policy for the class of 2025.


“Holistic review means we connect the dots among different parts of your application and make our best judgement based on the picture that emerges,” said Liz Kinsley, Northwestern’s director of undergraduate admission.

In a blog post for prospective students, Kinsley said that the modified testing policy means that for some applicants this year, those “dots” will not include test scores.

“Indeed, many ‘dots’ will look different in light of the pandemic: disrupted courses, pass/no pass grades, extracurricular commitments put on hold, unforeseen family circumstances and more,” she wrote. “Our holistic process is built to weigh the diversity of circumstances you’re experiencing during these unprecedented times.”

UT Austin, which is also dropping the testing requirement for applicants for the fall of 2021, intends to reinstate the requirement in the following year, but states: "Should there be continued disruption to standardized testing accessibility, the university will evaluate further modifications at that time."

Ohio State has announced a test optional policy for next year's applicants as well, but stresses that "some applicants to the Columbus campus still will be required to submit test scores, including home-schooled students and those attending non-chartered high schools or schools with a non-traditional evaluation, such as narrative or mastery assessments."

Jonathan Zimmerman (a professor at the University of Pennsylvania) has contributed a detailed and thoughtful article to The New York Review of Books titled, "What Is College Worth?"


Every fall I begin my freshman seminar on higher education by asking students to guess how many colleges in the United States admit fewer than 20 percent of their applicants. Estimates range from several hundred to a thousand.

The correct answer is forty-six. These schools represent between 1 and 2 percent of the roughly three thousand four-year higher-education institutions in the country. But they include the colleges that I attended, as did my parents and my children; I imagine that many readers of these pages attended them as well. I would also wager that many of us went to college when we were around eighteen, lived on campus, majored in the arts and sciences rather than in preprofessional fields, and received our degrees in four years.

We’re the exception, not the rule. Of the roughly 70 percent of American high school graduates who enroll in college, 40 percent attend community college, which is almost never residential; more than a quarter of undergraduates are twenty-five or older; most major in business, the health sciences, or other preprofessional subjects; and they take an average of six years to complete college, if they finish it at all. Indeed, as David Kirp shows in The College Dropout Scandal, nearly 40 percent of undergraduates leave without a degree. Thirty-four million Americans—over a tenth of the nation’s population—have some college credits but dropped out before graduating. They are nearly twice as likely as college graduates to be unemployed and four times more likely to default on student loans.

That’s a scandal for the nation, not just for higher education. We like to imagine college as an egalitarian force, which reduces the gap between rich and poor. But over the past four decades it has mostly served to reinforce or even to widen that gap. During these years—and for the first time in American history—a college degree became the sine qua non of middle-class stability and self-sufficiency. Yet rising tuition and declining government assistance has put the degree out of reach for many Americans; others have had to borrow huge sums, saddling their families and futures with crippling debt.

Nearly everyone seeking federal and state office now promises to improve college “access,” which has become another popular buzzword in higher education.

But access to what? Will more and more instruction remain online after the pandemic, enriching digital platform providers but reducing the opportunities for real learning? And why should taxpayers pick up the tab? A century ago, this country decided to invest in free public high schools because citizens were persuaded that secondary education would benefit all of us. Now we find ourselves at a very different juncture, where the economy is demanding college degrees but the polity has balked at funding them. We’ll never make the case for free college until we make it better for students and their families with the tools that we already have. That would be a welcome first step toward convincing a wary public that college should be a public good.