College & Workforce Readiness

Big Step in Testing Trend: University of Chicago Makes SAT, ACT Optional

By Catherine Gewertz — June 14, 2018 3 min read
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In a move that marks a big step in the test-optional movement, the University of Chicago has announced that it will no longer require students to submit SAT or ACT scores when they apply for admission.

UChicago, one of the most elite universities in the country, announced the move Thursday on Twitter, saying it is redesigning its admissions process to “enhance the accessibility” of the institution for first-generation and low-income students.

Going test-optional is part of a “UChicago Empower Initiative” that also includes a range of additional supports for traditionally underrepresented students, including guaranteed free tuition for families earning less than $125,000 annually. Students from families with annual incomes under $60,000 would qualify for free tuition, fees, and room and board.

The university also will expand its use of technology in the admissions process, allowing students to submit a two-minute video in place of on-campus or alumni interviews, which have been optional. The new approach begins with the class of 2023.

Students sometimes see elite colleges as “inaccessible” if they lack resources that could help them “stand out in the application process,” James G. Nondorf, the university’s dean of admissions, said in a statement.

The new initiative “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,” he said. “We want students to understand the application does not define you—you define the application.”

National Center for Fair & Open Testing called it a “major milestone for the test-optional admissions movement.” The organization, known as FairTest, keeps a list of the growing number of colleges and universities that make the tests optional. That list now tops 1,000 accredited, four-year institutions, but no research university as selective as the University of Chicago has been on that list, until now.

The only institutions that rank higher on U.S. News and World Report’s list of best colleges and universities are Harvard and Princeton.

The Washington Post, which first reported the University of Chicago’s decision, called it a “watershed, cracking what had been a solid and enduring wall of support for the primary admission tests among the two dozen most prestigious research universities.”

The university’s decision to make admissions scores optional is “striking,” since it has no difficulty attracting students, Inside Higher Ed said. It culled 27,694 applications to admit 2,419 students for the class that enrolled last September, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The list of institutions dropping the SAT and ACT as requirements has been growing because of concerns that traditional application processes can disadvantage some students, particularly those from low-income families and those with no history of college-going in their backgrounds.

The fact that high college-admissions-exam scores tend to correlate with students’ race, wealth, and educational background has been a key feature of testing debates.

Research on the effectiveness of test-optional policies to enhance access is still emerging. As Inside Higher Ed noted, a major study earlier this year concluded that dropping the requirement of admissions exams increases the enrollment of black and Latino students. A book written by people with ties to the College Board, which owns the SAT, said test-optional policies have no effect on diversity.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.