Guess what more than 3.8 million U.S. high school students did in 2017?
They took the SAT or ACT standardized test, one key factor in deciding college admissions. Many of these students obsessed over performing well on these tests, and most admissions officers stressed to them the importance of high scores. And although not every U.S. college or university requires applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, the highest-ranked U.S. schools always have — until now.
Applying to college is about to change in a major way.
On June 14, the University of Chicago announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. This makes Chicago — third-ranked among U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 National Universities — the first such school to drop its standardized test requirement.
How will this change impact the college admissions process? Will other schools follow the University of Chicago’s lead?
Why did the University of Chicago drop the SAT/ACT requirement?
The decision to drop the SAT/ACT admissions requirement is part of the school’s UChicago Empower Initiative. The Initiative “continues the University and College’s unwavering commitment to access and inclusion,” explains John W. Boyer, Dean of the College. By making standardized tests optional, Chicago hopes to remove any unfair advantage given to high-income students whose families can afford expensive tutors and test prep courses. In addition to making admissions standards fairer, the program provides scholarships and paid internships for low-income and first-generation students.
“Today, many under-resourced and underrepresented students, families and school advisers perceive top-ranked colleges as inaccessible if students do not have the means to help them stand out in the application process,” says James G. Nondorf, University of Chicago Dean of Admissions. “We want students to understand the application does not define you — you define the application.”
The policy change positively affects international students too. Jonathan Woodcome, Director of Campus Admissions Operations at Shorelight Education, works directly with campus admissions directors at many U.S. universities to foster admissions best practices. Because standardized test prep companies like Kaplan Test Prep and the Princeton Review are much more prominent in the United States than in other countries, comments Woodcome, international applicants face a disadvantage when being evaluated for their SAT and ACT scores.
“The SAT and ACT are not nearly as accessible internationally,” says Woodcome. “The test prep just isn’t there, either.”
Why is this a big deal?
Many top liberal arts colleges already make SAT and ACT scores optional. Wesleyan University, Smith College, and Bowdoin College, for example, are all test-optional schools that rank among the 25 Best National Liberal Arts Colleges. However, prior to the University of Chicago’s decision, none of the top 25 national research universities had a test-optional policy. Given Chicago’s leadership position in higher education (with more than 31,000 annual applicants and an 8% acceptance rate), educators are likely to watch whether other top national universities decide to remove standardized test requirements.
What impact will this have on applying students?
Nondorf hopes that “the UChicago Empower Initiative levels the playing field, allowing first-generation and low-income students to use technology and other resources to present themselves as well as any other college applicant.” By giving students the option to withhold standardized test scores, the University of Chicago permits students to highlight other parts of their applications.
Some students feel that standardized test scores do not accurately portray their abilities as students and their preparedness to succeed in college. In these cases, admissions staff can place more weight on students’ high school grade point averages, written essays, past experiences, and other aspects of their applications.
As part of the UChicago Empower Initiative, applicants at the University of Chicago may now submit a two-minute video to introduce their skills, interests, backgrounds, and personalities to admissions officers. In the past, other top schools like Tufts University and the College of William & Mary have offered students the opportunity to submit a video application. The increasing use of videos among college applications could revolutionize the college admissions process.
Will other universities follow the trend?
Now that the University of Chicago has removed its requirement for SAT and ACT scores, many other schools may soon follow suit. According to Woodcome, when a highly ranked school such as Chicago makes a big change, other schools often look up to it as a model for success. “Seeing those trends and innovative ideas on a great campus like University of Chicago will encourage others to re-evaluate what they are doing,” Woodcome says. “I do expect to see more universities and colleges assessing their criteria, their minimums, and the ways they evaluate the applicants.”
Woodcome expects that more schools will not only loosen their standardized test requirements but also begin allowing students to submit video applications. “Using technology that was not available 10 years ago is a great way to connect with students more. I could see it replacing or complementing things like essays. It’s another way to allow a student to express [his or her] interests and passions. Schools are looking to build community, and they want to find students [who] are passionate about their education.”
While nobody can say with certainty how the roles of standardized test scores and videos will change admissions procedures in the future, one thing is quite clear. The college admissions revolution is underway.