Return To Testing: What Colleges Requiring SATs & ACTs Means for Applicants

A number of colleges, including Ivy League institutions and selective schools, are reinstating mandatory test scores for admissions after going test-optional during the pandemic.

MIT reinstated required SAT and ACT scores in March 2022, followed by Dartmouth, Brown, the University of Texas at Austin, and Yale in early 2024. Yale now allows AP or IB scores as alternatives to SAT or ACT scores.

“Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT,” Stu Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions and student financial services, says in an official statement. “We believe a requirement is more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy.”

US News recently spoke to experts on what this shift means for applicants and how they should navigate the changing landscape of college admissions.

WHAT BOTH SIDES SAY

Colleges argue that standardized testing offers admissions officers a reliable predictor of an applicant’s college success by providing a consistent measure across different high school grading scales.

“I don’t think that’s surprising given just the wide range of grading scales and grading methods we see at high schools,” Robin Miller, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise, explains. “I think from the colleges’ perspective, standardized test scores somewhat level the playing field in terms of better understanding the students’ academic context.”

Critics of standardized testing, however, say that test-optional policies lead to an increase of diverse applicants.

“Study after study shows when testing was optional, applications went up at a lot of institutions and especially from underrepresented groups,” Akil Bello, senior director of advocacy and advancement at FairTest, says. “There’s no universal answer to what will happen, but the general trends are if you remove a barrier, more people will apply.”

Bello says that the return of standardized testing will affect students unequally.

“For some students, it will have a chilling effect and reduce the number of applications,” Bello says. “Some students will look at average test scores and say, ‘I’m not applying to that place.’ Other students will say, ‘This is a thing I’m good at that I have the money to pay for preparation for. Great, this will help me over somebody else who can’t prepare for the test.'”

HOW TO NAVIGATE TODAY’S COLLEGE ADMISSIONS

Navigating college applications today can be intricate, with some schools offering test-optional policies and others requiring testing.

“This is, perhaps, the most complex college admissions environment we have ever experienced,” Logan Powell, associate provost for enrollment and dean of undergraduate admission at Brown University, says. He advises students to “continue to focus on doing the best they can in a rigorous high school curriculum, engage in extracurricular activities that allow them to showcase additional strengths and have a carefully considered list of colleges to which they may apply.”

In any case, applicants should stay up to date on college admissions requirements for the upcoming cycle and be aware that some colleges announce their requirements somewhere between nine months and 18 months in advance.

“Students have to recognize that they can’t rely on lore or history or what their mama said,” Bello, of FairTest, says. “They have to check admissions requirements as they enter their junior year and throughout the year to ensure that they are meeting all requirements for admissions for places they’re interested in applying to. What makes that a little bit challenging is, what teenager knows three years out, four years out, eight months out what schools they are going to apply to?”

Sources: US News, MIT Admissions

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