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University of Chicago Makes Bold Moves – Drops SAT/ACT Requirement

The University of Chicago, one of the nation’s premier research institutions, announced today it is adopting a test optional admissions policy for U.S. students.  This is a big move. Until now, the overwhelming majority of leading research institutions in the country have required an SAT or ACT score for admissions.  UChicago is dropping its test score requirement, in the name of expanded access for low income and first-generation students. In addition, UChicago is making tuition free for students whose families earn less than $125,000 (and have typical assets), and is covering tuition, room, board and fees, for students  whose families earn less than $60,000 per year.

This is amazingly generous!  UChicago is one of a small number of institutions in the country with the resources to make promises such as these.  With an endowment of over $7.8 Billion, placing it in the top 20 richest universities in the nation, earning a return of around 10% annually (i.e. over $700 million this year), UChicago is taking strides to share its significant resources and expand educational access.

As it is dropping its testing requirement, UChicago is allowing students to submit 2-minute videos online, replacing alumni and on-campus interviews.  UChicago will allow students to submit “non-standard materials and accomplishments” as supplements to the application. It will also allow domestic students to self-submit their transcripts to eliminate fees.

Testing Policy

UChicago is clear that testing will remain a vital part of the application process for the vast majority of its students.  Under its application tab, UChicago spells out the rationale for its decision to drop the requirement.

The SAT, ACT, and other standard measures can continue to be an important part of the University of Chicago’s holistic admission process for students electing to send scores, and are a required part of the application process at many other highly selective schools. These tests can provide valuable information about a student which we and other colleges will consider alongside the other elements in a student’s application. We encourage students to take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, and to share your scores with us if you think that they are reflective of your ability and potential. Given that many of our peers do require testing, we anticipate that the vast majority of students will continue to take tests and may still submit their test scores to UChicago.

Some applicants may feel that an SAT or ACT score does not fully reflect their academic preparedness or potential. If this is the case for you and you are a domestic applicant, you may select UChicago’s test-optional method of application and not supply SAT or ACT scores with your application. We welcome any student regardless of testing plan to submit additional material (detailed in the Supplements section) that they feel best highlights their skills, talents, and potential contributions to UChicago.

By enacting this policy, allowing lower scoring students to forgo sending scores, Chicago will accomplish several things.  It will unquestionably drive in many more applications: free tuition coupled with test-optional admissions should flood the admissions office and bring the current 7.2% acceptance rate closer to Stanford’s 4.3%.  Additionally, going test-optional will keep the lower test scores off Chicago’s books, maintaining its lofty averages: 1500+SAT and 34+ ACT scores.  These averages are signals to applicants and to the reviewers who set college rankings.  Increased selectivity and high average test scores provide a direct benefit. colleges.

Test Optional does not mean testing goes away- not by a long shot

For so many top schools that have gone test-optional, testing has remained a vital admissions pathway for the majority of students.  Going test-optional opens up a lane for students who do not test as well as others.  Students who submit strong test scores are rewarded in the admissions process. Even test-optional schools are looking for strong testers- that’s why optional schools like Wake Forest buy up lists of strong test-takers to market to.

It’s easy to look up the number of SAT and ACT submitters for prominent test-optional schools using the Common Data Set. At Wake Forest, a prominent test-optional school, 54% of students submit ACT scores and 38% submit SAT scores. At Smith College, 50% of students submit SAT scores and 36% submit ACT scores.  At American, 50% submit SAT scores and 37% submit ACT scores.  At Worcester Polytechnic, 77% submit SAT scores and 42% submit ACT scores.  Even at Bates, renowned for its optional policy, 41% submit SAT scores and 37% submit ACT scores.   Testing is far from dead at these test-optional schools.  And most certainly testing will remain a major factor in admissions for the majority of students at UChicago.

At a recent conference for college counselors (IECA), the Director of Brandeis Admissions, Sara Brookshire, shared that even though the school is test optional (44% submit SAT, 44% submit ACT), if you want full consideration for merit-based aid, you really need to submit a test score.  She was transparent that it is much harder for non-need based kids to get merit aid without testing.  Brandeis is far from unique in using test scores for scholarship purposes. Across the country, admissions testing is serving a critical role in admissions and for the allocation of financial resources, even for schools where testing is no longer a requirement.

The test-optional movement is certainly here to stay.  More colleges will open up an admissions lane for students who do not have robust test scores.  For those students who have strong scores, there will also be a clear pathway for admissions and scholarships at colleges and universities across the country.


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