Updated Feb 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

SAT resurgence: Yale is latest elite college to drop test-optional policy

Illustration of answer bubbles on a standardized test answer sheet filled to form the shape of an upward arrow.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Yale is the latest university to reverse its pandemic-era test-optional policy and will again require standardized tests scores to apply, underscoring a debate in higher education over how to best vet prospective students.

Why it matters: The correlation between SAT and ACT results and future student success is complicated, surrounded by conflicting research and points of view among school administrators and education advocates.

  • Admissions officers have pointed to varied research on whether test scores or GPA are more accurate predictors of students' college performance and eventual graduation rates.

What's happening: Yale said on Thursday that it would resume requiring test scores of all applicants, expanding from the SAT/ACT to also include AP and IB exam results.

  • Fall 2024 applicants are still subject to the test-optional policy.
  • "When used together with other elements in an application, especially a high school transcript, test scores help establish the academic foundation for any case we consider," Jeremiah Quinlan, undergraduate admissions dean, said in a statement.
  • Earlier this month, Dartmouth reinstated the requirement, following MIT in 2022.

At Brown, a committee is developing recommendations on standardized testing, legacy admissions and early decision, said Brian Clark, a university spokesperson. The school's decision is expected in the coming months.

  • Dartmouth cited a research study commissioned by its president that "confirms that standardized testing — when assessed using the local norms at a student's high school" is valuable for undergraduate applications.

Other schools including Harvard, Cornell and Princeton have announced extensions on test-optional policies. In Columbia's case, it's permanent.

Zoom out: Many universities adopted test-optional or test-free policies during the pandemic as COVID-19 outbreaks hampered the in-person activity.

  • The testing has also raised questions around equity: Data analyzed last year showed that students' scores rose in accordance with parental income, per the New York Times.

By the numbers: 14% of admissions officers in 2023 at 200 top schools with test-optional policies were considering requiring applicants to submit standardized test scores, per a 2023 survey by Kaplan.

  • 85% of admissions officers surveyed said they were not considering restarting testing requirements. Only 1% said they definitely were reviving the mandate.

Yes, but: More than 2,000 schools have test-optional or test-free policies for 2024 applicants, per FairTest, an education organization focused on student evaluation.

  • The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the U.S., has called for colleges to drop their testing requirements.
  • "All students deserve and have the ability to demonstrate knowledge in many ways that are measurable by those who know them best – their educators," Becky Pringle, NEA president, said in a statement.

Go deeper: Undergraduate enrollment increases after years of decline

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