Some top schools are bringing back ACT and SAT requirements — but most colleges are still test-optional. Here’s what you need to know.

Some top schools are bringing back ACT and SAT requirements — but most colleges are still test-optional. Here’s what you need to know.
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  • Some colleges that were test-optional during the pandemic are requiring SAT or ACT scores again.
  • Those schools have said that having scores will help them recruit a more diverse student body.
  • Still, the majority of colleges in the country are remaining test-optional.

Some colleges are bringing standardized testing requirements back to their admissions processes after nixing them during the pandemic.

But they’re still not in the majority.

Since the start of 2024, some prestigious schools announced they will once again require SAT or ACT scores in prospective students’ applications. Dartmouth, for example, announced in February that while it took on the “test-optional” policy in response to the pandemic, it will be reinstating the testing requirement for the class of 2029.

“Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus,” the university said in a statement.

Yale and Brown made similar announcements, saying they conducted studies that found requiring testing allowed them to attract the most diverse student body.

“Our analysis made clear that SAT and ACT scores are among the key indicators that help predict a student’s ability to succeed and thrive in Brown’s demanding academic environment,” Brown’s Provost Francis Doyle said in a statement.

However, these elite schools are still outnumbered by the colleges that decided standardized testing stood in the way of otherwise-qualified applicants. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 80% of colleges will be test-optional for fall 2025 admissions.

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“Test-optional policies continue to dominate at national universities, state flagships, and selective liberal arts colleges because they typically result in more applicants, academically stronger applicants and more diversity,” FairTest Executive Director Harry Feder said in a statement.

The pros and cons surrounding standardized testing have been long-debated. While some argue the tests can put lower-income students at a disadvantage because they might not have access to the same tutoring resources that wealthier students have, others argue the tests give students from all backgrounds a way to show their skills — and give schools an easy way to choose who they should admit.

Dominique Baker, an associate professor at the University of Delaware who researches education policy — primarily financial aid and admissions policies — told Business Insider that the schools that are reinstating testing requirements right now didn’t choose to go test-optional because they thought it was “a good policy decision.” The pandemic forced them to do so because students couldn’t get to testing sites, and that’s no longer an issue.

“The institutions we’re currently talking about, they’re requiring tests again and didn’t necessarily want to ever stop requiring tests,” Baker said. “That matters.”

Here’s what students should know about the schools changing their policies this year — and what it could mean for them.

The return of some testing requirements

While many of the Ivy League schools that are reinstating testing requirements cited their aim to help broaden diversity on campus, some other schools have put forth slightly different reasons for their shift in policies.

The University of Texas-Austin, for example, announced its reinstatement of testing requirements in March after shifting to test-optional during the pandemic. Its reason: requiring testing scores would help the school choose between many high school seniors with high GPAs.

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“Our experience during the test-optional period reinforced that standardized testing is a valuable tool for deciding who is admitted and making sure those students are placed in majors that are the best fit,” the university’s president Jay Hartzell said in a statement. “Also, with an abundance of high school GPAs surrounding 4.0, especially among our auto-admits, an SAT or ACT score is a proven differentiator that is in each student’s and the University’s best interest.”

However, other schools that adopted test-optional during the pandemic have chosen to maintain the practice. The University of Michigan, for example, announced in February that it would be formally adopting a test-optional admissions policy. It said that since the fall of 2020, the school saw “a significant increase in applications from students from all backgrounds,” suggesting that a test-optional policy opened the door for a more diverse student body.

What it means for schools and students

One reason some schools have wanted to maintain test score requirements, Baker said, is because of their link to financial aid. While some financial aid is need-based — or based on a student or family’s income level — a college can choose to award aid based on merit, which it evaluates using a student’s GPA or test scores.

“Frequently, the most generous state financial aid that those states offer require test scores. And so what the state could do is they could say, ‘We did a really short pause, but now we’re going back to requiring test scores for these financial aid pieces,'” Baker said. “And state legislatures could also encourage institutions to go back to requiring tests. So I also think that there is a role that politics plays within this.”

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On top of that, the wide range of testing policies can be confusing for students. For many schools, the two test-optional and testing-required categories are just umbrellas — there can be different policies within each college, like requiring tests for an honors program but not for regular admission.

Even so, data has shown students have continued to take tests despite applying to schools with test-optional policies. According to the College Board, 1.9 million students in the high school class of 2023 took the SAT at least once, an increase from 1.7 million in 2022.

Moving forward, Baker said it’s important that if more schools choose to switch their testing policies, they consider the announcement’s timing.

“The more times you take the test, the better your score is. So if an institution announces in February or March that they’re going to be requiring tests for the fall, then students really do not have a ton of time to take them,” Baker said. “And so I do think that the timing of the announcement and the timing of when the policy takes effect really, really matter.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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