Light Wave

U.S. News

Are standardized tests poised for a comeback in college admissions?

By Jake Beardslee · February 12, 2024

In brief…

  • Dartmouth College recently reinstated SAT/ACT test requirements for applicants, citing an internal study showing scores help admit the best incoming class
  • Some experts think more elite colleges will follow suit and reinstate test mandates post-pandemic
  • Critics argue test scores benefit wealthy students and are a poor predictor of college success compared to GPA
  • Over 2,000 U.S. colleges are currently test-optional or test-free, but some say scores still provide an advantage
  • Most state schools still require test scores, but University of California system remains test-free
Dartmouth College's decision to reinstate SAT/ACT test requirements for applicants may influence other elite institutions to do the same post-pandemic, despite criticism that scores benefit the wealthy and poorly predict college success.  Kane5187/Wikimedia

Standardized testing for college admissions is making a comeback according to some experts, following Dartmouth College’s recent announcement that it will reinstate SAT and ACT test score requirements for applicants. The Ivy League school had dropped the mandate during COVID-19 along with hundreds of other institutions, but says an internal study showed the results are “helpful for constructing the best incoming class.”

While some celebrated the removal of test requirements, Dartmouth said in a statement: “SAT/ACTs can be especially helpful in identifying students from less-resourced backgrounds who would succeed at Dartmouth but might otherwise be missed in a test-optional environment.” MIT and Georgetown University have also brought back testing mandates.

Critics argue standardized tests only benefit wealthier students who can afford prep and retakes, and abandoning them makes admissions more equitable. “It is well known by this point that GPA is a five times better — or at least a five times better — predictor of student success and student potential in terms of college and post collegiate success,” said Josef Durand of Quad Education Group, according to The Hill.

Over 2,000 U.S. colleges are currently test-optional or test-free, but some say scores still provide an advantage even when optional. “The reality is test scores even when they were optional were factored in heavily,” said Allen Koh, founder and CEO of Cardinal Education to The Hill.

A third option is test-free admissions, like the University of California system which won’t be changing its test-free policy. But most state schools still require scores. “And so they seem to be happy with test optional. But most other state schools have been test score mandatory for quite a while, because fellowships especially a lot of them are driven by the scores,” Koh said.