By Aileen Xue
In an effort to equalize the playing field with regard to socioeconomic, cultural and language barriers, the University of Chicago has become the first of America’s elite universities to adopt a “test-optional” admission policy; as of this fall, applicants need not submit SAT or ACT scores to be considered for admission.
Last week, Stanford’s admission office took a step in this direction, announcing that it will no longer require applicants to report ACT or SAT essay scores. But in the wake of UChicago’s new policy, some wonder whether Stanford ought to become test-optional entirely.
UChicago joins a cohort of other institutions of higher education — mostly small, liberal arts colleges — that have already made reporting standardized test scores optional. For international students, UChicago still requires an English Proficiency Test and some form of standardized testing not including the SAT or ACT, such as International Baccalaureate (IB), SAT Subject Tests or Advanced Placement (AP) Examinations to demonstrate English competence.
Colleges that have adopted the test optional policy not only experience a significant growth in applicants, but also a substantial increase in the diversity of their overall student body.
After dropping its test score requirement in 2015, George Washington University reported a 29 percent increase in applications and a 33 percent increase in students from underrepresented minority groups in its freshman class. According to the University, the 21 percent of its applicants who chose not to report their standardized test score made up 29 percent of their freshman class.
If given the option to submit scores to Stanford, Ignacio Blanco ‘20 would have chosen not to. An international student from Costa Rica, Blanco only received two years of substantial exposure to English because he did not attend an international high school, which would have stressed English education, until his sophomore year. Blanco described his English proficiency as good enough, but challenging in the face of the SAT’s critical reading and writing sections.
Furthermore, in Costa Rica, Blanco had to travel two and a half hours just to take the test. And while he was accepted to — and received scholarships from — every Costa Rican college to which he applied, Blanco worried that his lower SAT score would adversely affect his shot at top U.S. schools.
“One of the main reasons why I was discouraged when applying to Stanford was because I knew that my SAT score was not nearly as good as [that of] the average student here,” Blanco said. “Even my school counselor told me to apply to more realistic colleges. But I still applied here since I did not think that the SAT reflected my full potential, but instead [it represented] just the beginning of what I could achieve.”
However, Adrian Liu ’20, who was homeschooled for high school, said he would have sent in his SAT score to Stanford regardless of whether or not the reporting of standardized test scores was optional.
“The SAT provides an avenue of standardization for homeschool applicants in particular,” Liu said. “Since I had no GPA or class rank to speak of, my SAT scores served as a measure of credibility to demonstrate that I am actually competent and can succeed at Stanford.”
Furthermore, Liu believes that the adoption of the test-optional policy would only add additional ambiguity to the already vague college admissions process.
“A college just saying the test scores are optional does not tell you how the test scores will actually affect admissions,” said Liu. “Also, someone who may not have the financial means to report their score may feel like they still have to anyways because everyone else is still reporting their score.”
For many students applying to college this upcoming application cycle, UChicago’s policy presents a dilemma. Potential Stanford applicant and Foothill High School student Warren Xu is not sure whether he will submit his score when the time comes for him to apply to test-optional universities.
“While I feel that there is an implicit expectation to submit my test score, I also want to show that I don’t want a standardized test score to define who I am,” Xu said.
As for the possibility that Stanford drops their test score requirement entirely, Mike Devlin, Stanford’s Associate Dean and Director of Admission, says that Stanford will not be following in UChicago’s footsteps any time soon.
“As for Stanford, we will continue to require the SAT or ACT from all applicants,” Devlin wrote in an email to the Daily. “Standardized testing will be one factor among many that we consider during our review process. We do not intend to alter this requirement now or in the foreseeable future.”
Contact Aileen Xue at xueaileen1240 ‘at’ gmail.com