The University of Chicago will no longer require ACT or SAT scores from U.S. students. This news created waves among elite institutions of higher education as it becomes the first top-10 research university to join the test-optional movement.
Other schools, including some well-known liberal arts colleges, have dropped the testing mandates in recent years to increase recruiting in a very crowded market.
Thursday’s announcement by the university was a watershed, breaking what had been a solid wall of support for the primary admission tests among the two dozen most prestigious research universities.
The university admits fewer than 10 percent of applicants and ranks third on the U.S. News & World Report list of top national universities. They follow Princeton and Harvard and are tied with Yale.
National Admission Test Required Since 1957
The national admission test has been required since 1957. Before that, it screened applicants with its own tests.
They are also expanding financial aid and dropping in-person admission interviews. The university will allow applicants to send in two-minute video pitches, in an effort to connect with a generation skilled at communicating via cellphone clips.
“Testing is not the be-all and the end-all,” said James G. Nondorf, U-Chicago’s dean of admissions and financial aid. He said he didn’t want “one little test score” to end up “scaring students off” who are otherwise qualified.
The SAT, overseen by the College Board, and the ACT have been fixtures in college admissions. Most colleges and universities require students to take one of them. The tests remain essential for the vast majority of students who want to attend major public universities.
In the high school class of 2017, more than 1.8 million students took the SAT, a three-hour test of math, reading and writing. About 2 million took the ACT, which covers math, reading, English and science in nearly three hours. Both tests have optional essay sections.
Debate over admission testing has increased in recent years. The SAT and ACT were launched in the 20th century with the idealistic goals of rewarding academic merit, breaking social class barriers and giving all students a chance to prove they belong in college.
Strong Link Between Scores and Economic Background
But studies have found a strong link between scores and economic background. Students that come from privilege have wider access to books, museums, tutors and other forms of cultural or academic enrichment. They tend to get higher marks.
“ACT scores provide a common, standardized metric that allows colleges to evaluate students who attend different high schools, live in different states, complete different courses with different teachers and receive different grades on a level playing field,” ACT officials said in a statement.
But recent research suggests that test-optional policies are helping colleges lure more disadvantaged students to apply, although financial aid and other factors play a major role in recruiting.
John Boyer, dean of the undergraduate college, said the university’s goal is to provide equal access to elite education – for “all citizens, not just those born in certain Zip codes.”