The University of Chicago announced that it was dropping the requirement that all undergraduate applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.
Hundreds of colleges -- including elite liberal arts colleges -- have stopped requiring the SAT or ACT. But Chicago's move is the first by one of the very top research universities in the country. And the move is striking coming from an institution, known for its academic rigor, that has had no difficulty attracting top applicants.
For the class that enrolled in September 2017, the university received 27,694 applicants and admitted 2,419. The middle 50 percent of the range of SAT scores of admitted applicants was 1460 to 1550.
Several experts predicted that other top universities might now reconsider testing requirements.
The test-optional policy applies to all students from the United States. The university also announced an expansion of financial aid (for which the university was already on the generous side) and other new policies designed to attract more low-income and first-generation students.
Going forward the university will provide:
Full tuition scholarships for students whose families earn less than $125,000.
Scholarships of $20,000 over four years, and a guaranteed paid summer internship, for all first-generation students.
Special new scholarships for veterans and the children of police officers, firefighters and veterans.
In addition, the university announced a new program in which it will invite students to submit a two-minute video introduction of themselves. And the university will allow self-submission of transcripts to minimize the need for students to pay fees.
“Today, many underresourced and underrepresented students, families and school advisers perceive top-ranked colleges as inaccessible if students do not have the means to help them stand out in the application process,” said James G. Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at Chicago. He added that UChicago Empower, as the initiatives are collectively being called, "levels the playing field, allowing first-generation and low-income students to use technology and other resources to present themselves as well as any other college applicant. We want students to understand the application does not define you -- you define the application."
Chicago's announcement comes at a time of renewed debate over the role of standardized testing in admissions.
In January, a new book from Johns Hopkins University Press (edited by three people with current or former ties to the College Board) argued that test-optional admissions policies have not increased the diversity of higher education or had other positive impacts. Then in April, a large-scale study -- based on data from 28 colleges and universities and 955,774 applicants over multiyear periods for each of those institutions -- found that the adoption of test-optional policies does increase the enrollment of black and Latino students and does not have a negative impact on completion rates.
For colleges that use the SAT or ACT, a major challenge has been study after study showing that wealthier students generally fare better than do less wealthy students. And white and Asian students, on average, perform much better than do black and Latino students.