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University of Chicago Drops SAT/ACT Requirement

Move, part of ambitious plan to attract broader range of applicants, is first by one of the nation's top research universities.

The University of Chicago on Thursday morning announced that it was dropping the requirement that all undergraduate applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.

Hundreds of colleges -- including elite liberal arts colleges -- have stopped requiring the SAT or ACT. But Chicago's move is the first by one of the very top research universities in the country. And the move is striking coming from an institution, known for its academic rigor, that has had no difficulty attracting top applicants.

For the class that enrolled in September 2017, the university received 27,694 applicants and admitted 2,419. The middle 50 percent of the range of SAT scores of admitted applicants was 1460 to 1550.

The test-optional policy applies to all. The university also announced an expansion of financial aid (for which the university was already on the generous side) and other new policies designed to attract more low-income and first generation students.

Going forward the university will provide:

  • Full tuition scholarships for students whose families earn less than $125,000.

  • Scholarships of $20,000 over four years, and a guaranteed paid summer internship, for all first-generation students.

  • Special new scholarships for children of police officers, fire fighters, veterans and the children of veterans.

In addition, the university announced a new program in which it will invite students to submit a two-minute video introduction of themselves. And the university will allow self-submission of transcripts to minimize the need for students to pay fees.

“Today, many under-resourced and underrepresented students, families and school advisers perceive top-ranked colleges as inaccessible if students do not have the means to help them stand out in the application process,” said James G. Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at Chicago. He added that UChicago Empower, as the initiatives are collectively being called, "levels the playing field, allowing first-generation and low-income students to use technology and other resources to present themselves as well as any other college applicant. We want students to understand the application does not define you – you define the application.

Chicago's announcement comes at a time of renewed debate over the role of standardized testing in admissions.

In January, a new book from Johns Hopkins University Press (edited by three people with current or former ties to the College Board) argued that test-optional admissions policies have not increased the diversity of higher education or had other positive impacts. Then in April, a large-scale study-- based on data from 28 colleges and universities and 955,774 applicants over multi-hear periods for each of those institutions -- found that the adoption of test-optional policies does increase the enrollment of black and Latino students and does not have a negative impact on completion rates.

For colleges that use the SAT or ACT, a major challenge has been study after study showing that wealthier students generally fare better than do less wealthy students. And white and Asian students, on average, perform much better than do black and Latino students.

Consider the following table from the most recent release of data by the College Board. The benchmarks are scores that the College Board says indicate that students have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in various college courses.

2017 Mean SAT Scores, and Percentage Meeting Benchmarks, by Race and Ethnicity

Admissions officials of course note that they consider a range of factors, and not just test scores, in making decisions on applicants. But test scores are receiving increasing scrutiny from advocates for black and Latino students, who say those students are excluded by the use of test scores. In addition, some advocates for Asian-American applicants use this data to say that elite colleges should be admitting many more Asian-American applicants than they are now. This issue is about to receive attention in a lawsuit against Harvard University, joined by the U.S. Justice Department, alleging discrimination against Asian-American applicants.

While top universities have been sticking with the SAT and ACT, few have adopted the tests' writing assessments. And those that have used that portion of the SAT and ACT have been dropping the requirement. This month Yale University announced that it was dropping the writing requirement, three months after Harvard did the same. The University of San Diego also announced recently it was dropping the requirement.

The Princeton Review, which tracks how many colleges require the test, now identifies only 25 institutions that do so. Those that have already dropped the requirement include Columbia and Cornell Universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Scott Jaschik

Chronicle of Higher Education

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