I worked at the University of Chicago admission office back in the dark ages, around the turn of the century, when we still read our applications on paper. Around the time you, if you’re a senior in high school, were born. Back then, under a previous Dean of Admission, we were already careful not to weigh test scores too heavily. Sure, they mattered, but the student with the perfect 1600 whose activities were middling and essays were uninteresting did not have an advantage over the student with the 1450 who wrote an excellent essay and whose love of learning and intellectual spirit shined through the app. So while UChicago has momentarily rocked the admission world by being the first major research university in the top tier of selectivity to go test optional, in some ways I expect that the admission process will not change too much. The importance of a student’s love of learning and their intellectual spirit will continue to be a priority in the application over their test scores.
I think it’s important to note that Chicago has a seven percent admit rate, so this new policy won’t make it “easy” to gain admission. And if you are an extremely strong tester, you should still submit your scores. However, this new practice should help students with the kind of impressive profiles required for admission to a school like Chicago (a transcript with the most rigorous curriculum and excellent grades, remarkable extra-curricular activities, and wonderful recommendations and essays) who don’t happen to test well. Most students who have all those things going for them are also great testers—but some simply aren’t, and it’s those students I hope will benefit most from this policy.
Why has UChicago made this choice? According to the Dean’s statements, they have a new Empowerment Initiative geared towards students from underserved communities, including those from rural areas, under-represented populations, and first-generation college goers. Being test optional is one way they hope to make applying to UChicago easier for those who face considerable barriers in the college admission process. But how useful is a policy if the students it seeks to benefit don’t even know the policy exists? Students who don’t have access to quality college counseling are often unaware of less common practices like optional testing. UChicago is off to a great start with this announcement, and I applaud them for breaking with tradition, but I’m hopeful the university will devote resources to helping students understand what this means, when to use it, and how to avoid blindly sending scores that won’t help their case.
To learn more about test optional and test flexible policies, visit the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.