The University of Chicago and Test Optional Colleges

The test optional movement is becoming relentless.

First,  the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) released a study in February 2014 showing there is no perceptible difference in academic performance between students who do and do not submit ACT or SAT scores.

Such a statement almost seemed blasphemous in the realm of college admissions, yet the evidence was culled from a study of over 123,000 students across 33 colleges with test optional policies. The colleges were from four different categories: 20 private colleges and universities, 6 public universities, 5 minority serving institutions and 2 art/design schools. Additionally, a number of these test optional colleges were among the most selective colleges in the country including Bowdoin College, Smith College, Wesleyan University, which in 2014 elected to become test optional, and Wake Forest University (NC).

Two questions served as fundamental guides for the study. Foremost, ‘Are college admissions decisions reliable for students who are admitted without SAT or ACT scores?’ and do standardized tests predict college performance?

1.      The cumulative GPA (CGPA) for non-submitters is only .05 lower than submitters

2.      The graduation rate for non-submitters is 0.6% lower than submitters

3.      Non submitters tend to apply early decision, come from a broad range of ethnic groups, and often attend schools out of state

4.      The best predictor of college performance are high school grades: ‘hard work and good grades in high school matter, and they matter a lot.’

The differences between submitters and non-submitters in CGPA and graduation rates, statistically, were insignificant. Moreover,  when a school eliminates the standardized test requirement the quality of the students stayed virtually the same and it broadened the applicant pool to first generation, non-white, and Pell Grant recipients.

Joseph Soares, a professor of sociology at Wake Forest, one of the campuses that was part of the surveyed 33 schools in the study, responded to the results of the study: “The study confirms that high school grades remain the best predictor of college grades, and suggest that anyone relying on test scores reduces the breadth of their applicant pool for no good reason.”

Then, in April 2018, another study comparable in scope covering 28 colleges and 955,774 applicants over a multiyear period from Steve Syverson of University of Washington, Bothell; Valerie Franks, a consultant; and, William Hiss a former dean of admissions at Bates College (a test optional college) compared institutions with test optional policies with those without and discovered:

1.      The years following the imposition of test optional policies had marked increases in applications: 29% in public schools and 11% in public schools

2.      A fourth of the applicants to test-optional colleges opted not to submit scores

3.      First year grades were lower for non-submitters, but “they ended up highly successful…graduating at slightly higher rates than submitters: ‘the ultimate proof of success.’”

This June the proverbial other shoe dropped when the University of Chicago, a major research university with an admission rate  this year of 7.2% with over 32,000 applications, announced it was dropping the requirement that all undergraduates submit SAT or ACT scores.

The list of current test optional (generally means that a student is not required to submit and SAT or ACT score during the application process) and test flexible (which allows students to determine which standardized tests they might submit) can be found at Fair Test (which now exceeds 1,000 colleges and universities)

Though many of the most selective universities continue to use standardized testing, the separate writing assessment essay is quickly losing its luster. Both Yale and Harvard have announced they are stopping using any writing assessment tests in their admissions decisions. A complete list of who is and who is not using the separate essay test can be found at

Test optional might not be for all campuses or all students. In fact most test optional schools are willing to review scores if the applicant feels they are critical in evaluating his or her candidacy. What is more surprising is that without the SAT or ACT score, more and more colleges can identify promising students effectively and broadening the diversity of their applicant pools, while not compromising academic quality.