In June 2018, the University of Chicago made an announcement on Twitter that set off shock waves within the world of college admissions. The Washington Post called it a “watershed, cracking what had been a solid and enduring wall of support for the primary admission tests among the two dozen most prestigious research universities.” The University released a statement indicating that they would no longer require applicants to submit any standardized test scores.
There have long been active discussions around the submission of ACT and/or SAT scores and colleges have often been accused of merely attempting to boost their application numbers or trying to attract a wider diversity of applicants by removing them as requirements. The movement started with smaller colleges that were more easily able to experiment with their applicant pool, and then carefully study the results of going test-optional. Interestingly, those early results revealed limited differences in academic performance between those who submitted scores and those who did not. These same findings are widely reported by many colleges and universities.
Over the past 5-10 years, many colleges have gone test-optional. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, FairTest, maintains a list of test-optional and test- flexible colleges and universities. That growing list now contains over 1,000 ac- credited four-year institutions, but no re- search university as selective as the University of Chicago has ever been present – they have broken the barrier! What has long been known is that the requirement for standardized tests unfairly disadvantages low-income families and first generation applicants, and is a barrier to a broad and diverse applicant pool. Colleges want to see that changed. This exciting trend reveals that colleges want to create a fairer, more creative, and more technologically advanced approach to their admissions procedures, one that encourages more first-generation and low-income students to submit an application.
Universities are well aware that for many, test preparation can really take over a young person’s life. It can overwhelm regular schoolwork, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, volunteer work, sports, and even simple fun with friends. High schools may provide workshops, test prep courses, and some random programs that can at times take away from the real work of education. Families that can afford to enroll their student in a professional test preparation program may see them leaving for those classes once or twice a week, for several hours at a time, and frequently taking the tests more than once – or twice – in their quest for higher scores. Standardized tests have become a huge burden to many young people, and more and more colleges are really asking themselves if they are truly worth that burden.
But a sea change is now well underway in the world of standardized testing and thoughtful planning is happening in many admission offices. Without scores, admissions must dig deeper into an application; test-optional colleges must decide how to use the scores they will continue to receive; and colleges must offer more creative ways of designing their applications. On the other hand, universities that receive huge numbers of applications – UC Berkeley received over 100,000 applications last year – cannot yet imagine how to review those numbers without the anchor of standardized scores. Students should still carefully study a college’s testing requirements and/or recommendations – some may be test-optional in admissions but may still require them for scholarship consideration. Stay tuned!
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