Posted on December 17, 2021

Harvard Won’t Require SAT or ACT Through 2026 as Test-Optional Push Grows

Nick Anderson, Washington Post, December 16, 2021

Harvard University will extend for four years a policy begun soon after the coronavirus pandemic emerged that allows aspiring students to apply without SAT or ACT scores — a landmark development for a fast-spreading movement that aims to limit the role of the standardized exams in college admissions.

Coming from one of the biggest names in higher education, the extension announced Thursday evening likely presages similar actions elsewhere to lengthen or solidify test-optional admission policies that arose amid the public health crisis. The movement nationally, with most highly ranked schools on board at least temporarily since spring and summer of 2020, appears to be at a tipping point even as debate rages about the value of the tests.

There is a profound shift underway in how competitive colleges and universities from coast to coast sort through applications and choose an incoming class. The admission tests have not vanished, and perfect scores of 36 on the ACT and 1600 on the SAT retain their power and allure. But test scores are no longer an automatic data point in application files at most prominent schools, a major departure from the situation less than two years ago.

For college-bound students, this new reality could prove liberating or daunting, or both, as they weigh whether to send that 1200, 1300 or 1400 (on the SAT scale) to their dream schools — or send nothing at all.


Harvard left open the possibility that a testing requirement could resume for fall 2027, but the chances of that happening could diminish with each passing year. Many colleges and universities are now running what amounts to a multiyear experiment to learn whether test-optional admissions process can diversify classes while upholding educational standards. That includes Columbia and Cornell universities — also Ivy League institutions — which have both suspended testing requirements through the classes entering in fall 2024. Already, schools have learned applications can spike and admission rates plummet when scores aren’t required. Harvard’s admission rate this year fell below 4 percent.

Many schools have made the policy permanent. The University of Chicago went test optional in 2018, before the pandemic, and a chain of well-known schools followed, including Indiana University, Oregon State University, the University of Oregon and the University of Washington.

More than 90 percent of schools on U.S. News & World Report lists of top 100 liberal arts colleges and top 100 universities nationwide are not requiring scores for admission this year. {snip}


Proponents say the tests uncover hidden talent, draw all kinds of students into the college pipeline and yield important clues about whether they can prosper in their first year in college. Skeptics call the tests a waste of time, skewed in favor of privileged families who can afford private tutoring. They believe high school grades and the degree of rigor in courses are far better guides to student potential.


Some colleges want to banish scores from the process entirely. The influential University of California, with campuses in Berkeley, Los Angeles and elsewhere, decided during the pandemic it will no longer consider SAT or ACT scores in admissions even if students send them. The California Institute of Technology is in the midst of a three-year trial of that policy, known as “test-blind” or “test-free.”


Georgetown University, a prestigious Jesuit school in the District of Columbia, last year granted flexibility for students who couldn’t secure a spot in a testing center. But this year it has taken a stricter line: Scores are required.

Charles Deacon, Georgetown’s dean of admissions, said SAT and ACT scores provide essential context in an era when many applicants boast transcripts with all A’s or nearly all A’s. “Grade inflation was already rampant,” Deacon said. “It’s now through the roof.” He said Georgetown expects to continue its policy. “We may be out there all by ourselves,” he said. “I hope not.”


In Wisconsin, state university officials this month extended a test-optional trial for admission cycles through early 2025. André E. Phillips, director of admissions and recruitment for the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said 52 percent of applicants in the last cycle submitted scores. Of those offered admission, he said, only a slightly larger share sent scores: 53.7 percent. He is eager to learn more about the demographics and performance of enrolled students who did and didn’t send scores.