The University of Chicago has announced that it will no longer require undergraduate college applicants to submit SAT and ACT standardized test scores.
The university joins a growing number of schools opting to forego standardized test scores with beliefs that they place an unfair cost and burden on low-income and minority students, and ultimately hinder efforts to broaden diversity on campus.
While it will still allow applicants to submit their SAT or ACT scores, university officials said they would let prospective undergraduates send transcripts on their own and submit video introductions and nontraditional materials to supplement their applications.
“We were sending a message to students, with our own requirements, that one test basically identifies you,” said Jim Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at U. of C. “Despite the fact that we would say testing is only one piece of the application, that’s the first thing a college asks you. We wanted to really take a look at all our requirements and make sure they were fair to every group, that everybody, anybody could aspire to a place like UChicago.”
The decision marks a dramatic shift for the South Side university and establishes it as the first top-ranked, highly selective school to do away with requiring test scores. It continues a yearslong effort by the university to make it easier for first-generation, low-income and minority students to apply and get into the school. The university also announced it would boost financial aid opportunities, including free tuition for families making less than $125,000 and four-year scholarships for first-generation students.
At issue is the value of standardized test scores and what role they should play in admissions. Proponents say the tests provide consistent metrics that help control for variances among states, schools and curricula. Critics say those tests, which some families spend thousands of dollars to prepare for, do not accurately measure a student’s qualifications. They have doubted how effective a no-test policy actually helps diversify campus populations.
U. of C. leaders have long wanted to increase diversity on campus and said they hoped a test-optional policy, at minimum, will prevent students from assuming that anything less than an outstanding test score automatically takes them out of the running.
Of the first-time freshmen students enrolling last fall, 25 percent recorded perfect or nearly perfect ACT and SAT scores in reading, writing and math, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Those scores, while impressive, gave pause to Undergraduate Dean John Boyer, who said he feared that such an intense focus on test scores skews admissions in favor of higher-income students from upper-echelon high schools.
“There’s a big industry of test prep, and the system as it’s existed serves them very well,” Boyer said. “We’re allowing ZIP codes to basically define the future of American life.”
Dozens of four-year institutions have embraced making SAT and ACT scores optional, according to a database maintained by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a Massachusetts-based proponent of test-optional admissions that has criticized standardized testing.
Among the recent adopters is DePaul University, which stopped requiring test scores in 2012.
“Once we looked at a student’s grades and transcripts, the SAT and ACT added very little to explain how well they were going to do in college,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president of enrollment management and marketing. “Four years of high school is a better predictor than three hours in a testing room.”
Still, the vast majority, and most Illinois schools — including the state’s public universities — require SAT or ACT scores from applicants. Zach Goldberg, spokesman for the College Board, said more than 85 percent of college applications are sent to schools requiring either SAT or ACT scores, and that even test-optional schools still require the test of some students.
“The College Board continues to help students clear a path to college across a changing college admission landscape,” Goldberg said in a statement. “With our members, we redesigned the SAT to make it a more fair test for all students, and we revolutionized test prep with free, personalized practice. We will always bet on students and firmly believe that all students can practice, improve and show they’re ready for college.”
Ed Colby, a spokesman for ACT, said the organization encourages colleges to develop an admissions process that works best for them but maintains the test is a valuable and objective gauge.
“ACT scores provide a common, standardized metric that allows colleges to evaluate students who attend different high schools, live in different states, complete difference courses with different teachers, and receive different grades on a level playing field,” Colby said in a statement. “No other factor used in admission decisions can do that. Comparing students based on widely different sources of information with no common metric increases the subjectivity of admissions decisions.”
Meanwhile, the state of Illinois is seeking to expand college admissions-related exams to more high school students.
The Tribune reported in February that the state Board of Education, starting in 2019, will provide freshmen and sophomores a preliminary exam in addition to the nationally recognized test students take in their junior year that they can use for college applications. The effort would cost up to $75 million through 2024.
Both the ACT and College Board, which oversees the SAT, are bidding to do the testing for Illinoisans, but it was not known if the Board of Education has made a final decision.
“These are excellent tests,” said Nondorf of U. of C. “The students who submit them, we’ll review them. The students who don’t, we’re going to be looking at what they have too. We’re trying to put it in the appropriate place. But they should not be the only thing that determines your success.”
Some recent research suggests that test-optional policies can successfully draw more minority students into a college’s application pool and student body.