Brown, UT Austin Go Test-Required, Perks of International Degrees, Workarounds to Race-based Admissions

Apr 3, 2024

College Board Releases Two New SAT Practice Tests

Last week, two new full-length digital-adaptive SAT practice tests unceremoniously appeared on the Bluebook app. Students now have access to six full-length tests to use as practice prior to their official test. These are the first full-length practice tests to be added to the platform since the digital PSAT practice tests (one for PSAT 8/9 and one for PSAT/NMSQT/10) launched on July 24, 2023 and the first set of new official digital SAT tests since October 2022.


This quiet release is huge news for students preparing for the remaining exam dates this year. One of the major pain points with the new SAT – and what makes the ACT more attractive to some students – is the dearth of official prep material for the digital exam. Although some third-party material currently available is both representative of the content and logically sound, there is no substitute for official test questions. These two new tests – with over 200 new official questions – help the College Board push towards greater transparency.

International Universities Provide a Beneficial Alternative for U.S. Students

According to admissions consultant Greg Kaplan, U.S students have a viable – and potentially highly-beneficial – option in avoiding the hyper-selective climate of U.S. higher education: completing undergraduate studies at an international university. There are several key perks to studying outside of the U.S.:

  1. Selectivity – some of the most selective institutions overseas are markedly less so than similar institutions in the U.S. Oxford University has acceptance rates as high as 17 percent for some programs versus the top-20 most selective U.S. institutions, which all have acceptance rates of 7 percent or less.
  2. Cost – while robust financial aid packages don’t exist at most international universities, initial costs can be much lower, even at the most prestigious universities.
  3. Timing – most programs can be completed in three years rather than four – also adding to the cost benefit.
  4. Admissions – unlike many U.S. universities that keep their metrics for admissions close to the chest, other North American and European universities boast a more transparent process.
  5. Prestige – other than for programs with special U.S. licensing requirements, international graduates will not be at a disadvantage; in fact, in many cases, an international education will make that student stand out as a candidate for future opportunities.


Although the idea of a semester abroad is a concept that many students consider, a full program abroad is often something not on a college-bound student’s radar. While studying outside the U.S. is not for every student, for certain students with a high degree of independence and the flexibility to live far away from immediate family, an undergraduate education at an international university could be a stellar fit, affording them certain opportunities and distinctions not available to their counterparts in the U.S.

Opinion: How to skip the college admissions rat race and still get a degree (LA Times) – 3/22/24

Mad Libs: Standardized Testing Edition

There are the old faithfuls: Test-Required and Test-Optional. The relative newcomer, idealistic but elusive — Test-Blind. And the new kids on the block: Yale’s addition to the mix, Test-Flexible, and following Duke’s recent policy update officially deprioritizing the essay in its point system, what we’ve coined — Test-Lite.

Check out our comprehensive overview of these diverse camps to discover which high-profile institutions currently adhere to which test-something.

Testing Requirements in Flux: Navigating the Evolving Admissions Policies

Better FAFSA Encounters Another Significant Delay

On Friday of last week, the U.S. Department of Education acknowledged yet another major issue with the redesigned FAFSA form: a calculation error has caused a significant number of student applications to need to be reprocessed and resent to institutions. In calculating the Student Aid Index (SAI) for dependent students with reported assets, certain data fields were omitted, leading to inaccurate aid estimates. Approximately 200,000 of the 1.5 million processed applications (13 percent) were affected by this issue.


This is just the latest in a long line of missteps in the disastrous Better FAFSA rollout. The news comes just a day after the California legislature voted to extend the deadline for FAFSA applications – and some other states are thinking of following suit. The Department of Education recommends that institutions manually adjust the affected SAIs to “expedite” the process; however, such a maneuver would compound the struggles of admissions departments already overburdened by the FAFSA delays, scrambling to use scant information to get aid offers by May.

‘Another Unforced Error’ in the FAFSA Fiasco (Inside Higher Ed) – 3/22/24

In Midst of Higher Education Crisis, Enrollment at HBCUs Surge

Many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are seeing an uptick in enrollment, with institutions such as Morgan State University in Baltimore reaching an all-time high in enrollment after its enrollment surged by 27 percent since 2018. HBCUs across the U.S. saw enrollment growth in 2021 and 2022 as college enrollment dropped overall. This past year, the largest HBCU in the nation, North Carolina A&T State University, saw a year-over-year increase in enrollment of 3 percent. Howard University, Delaware State University, North Carolina Central University, Wilberforce University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore also saw enrollment growth.


Experts see a variety of reasons for HBCU enrollment growth while overall college enrollment numbers sputter. HBCU leaders note that retention and recruitment efforts as well as academic support for incoming students help explain the upward trajectory. Additionally, increased philanthropic and government financial support has bolstered growth. Moreover, the current political climate – including the racial awakening after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to ban affirmative action – has fueled enrollment at some HBCUs. According to Harry Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, “There’ll be some hesitation among African American students about whether to apply (to certain top-ranked colleges) because the signal is that we may not be welcome here…Therefore, you may want to go to a place where you’re going to want to feel welcome.”

Some HBCUs are seeing enrollment surge. Here’s why. (Higher Ed Dive) – 3/19/24

Redesigned SAT Makes Its Debut for U.S. Test-Takers

Earlier in March, the College Board launched its redesigned SAT for U.S. test-takers. The shorter digital-adaptive test, which has been the standard for non-U.S. students since the beginning of 2023, was administered over the weekend to over 200,000 students at 3,000 test centers in 173 countries. According to the College Board, 99.8% of those who sat for the test successfully completed their exam and submitted their results. Additionally, 400,000 students took the school-day digital PSAT earlier this month.


In addition to a smooth rollout this weekend, College Board surveys have found overwhelmingly positive feedback about the new test:

  • 84% of students and 99% of staff reported a better experience with the digital SAT Suite compared to the paper SAT Suite.
  • 97% of students said the Bluebook testing app was easy to use.
  • 95% of students said they felt comfortable testing on their digital device.

That all being said, a large number of students reported the math section of this administration of the test particularly difficult – more so than the practice material provided by the College Board.

Digital SAT Launches Across the Country, Completing the Transition to Digital and Providing a Simpler Testing Experience for Students and Educators (College Board Press Release) – 3/12/24

UT Austin Goes Back to a Test-Mandatory Policy

The University of Texas at Austin has reinstated its standardized testing requirement as part of the admissions process. This change will go into effect for students applying to enroll in the fall of 2025. The institution had previously been test-optional since 2020. This news comes in the weeks following similar moves by Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Brown University.


According to a UT Austin statement, data from an 2023 internal study supported that higher standardized test scores had a direct correlation with better academic performance at the institution: of the over nine thousand first-year students, those who submitted test scores with their applications (median SAT score of 1420) received a higher average first-semester GPA (by 0.86 points) than those who did not submit scores. University president, Jay Hartzell, also touted SAT and ACT scores as “proven differentiator(s)” among students with GPAs at or around 4.0.

UT Austin Returns to Standardized Testing (Inside Higher Ed) – 3/12/24

Department of Education Finally Releases Student Financials to Select Colleges

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that, after months-long delays, colleges are finally beginning to receive students’ financial information that was submitted via the redesigned FAFSA form. According to the DOE, “a few dozen” schools were sent information this past weekend; however, the department did not name these institutions. Based on feedback from this small sample set, the Department of Education will work through any technical issues and send information to a larger set of colleges.


The opening of the FAFSA form was delayed from October to the middle of January in the wake of a rocky rollout of the redesigned form. Since January, the form has continued to be plagued with issues, not all of which are resolved. Currently, only 3.6 million students have filled out the FAFSA form this year; the typical figure is 17 million. The deadline for students to apply is June 30th.

Colleges begin receiving student FAFSA information after delays (The Hill) – 3/11/24

Legacy Admissions Banned in Virginia

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin signed a bill on March 8th that bans the practice of legacy admissions at public universities. This bill makes it illegal for these institutions to give preference in admissions to applicants based on familial connections to alumni or donors. Notable institutions that will be affected by this ban are the University of Virginia and The College of William & Mary. Another selective institution in the state, Virginia State, had already announced last year that legacy preferences would no longer be a part of its admissions process.


The bill in question, House Bill 48, was approved unanimously by the Virginia House of Delegates in January of this year. The law will take effect July 1st of this year, so incoming freshmen of the class of 2029 will be the first to be admitted to Virginia schools without legacy preferences factoring into admissions decisions. Virginia joins Colorado as the second state to ban legacy preferences in admissions. Similar legislation is currently being considered in Connecticut and New York.

Virginia Bans Legacy Admissions in Public Universities and Colleges (NY Times) – 3/10/24

New York Times and Stanford Explore Alternatives to Affirmative Action

Working with a team from Stanford University, The New York Times created a model with four scenarios for potential alternatives to race-based preferences in admissions. These scenarios are detailed below:

  1. A preference for poorer students: the team gave a boost to applicants based on their parents’ income, ranging from +150 points for students from lowest-income families and 0 points for students from the highest-income families. This model created higher economic diversity by a significant margin but only a small shift toward greater racial diversity.
  2. Adding school poverty: by including an additional +150 bonus for students in higher-poverty schools, economic diversity was further increased. “As Black and Hispanic students are more likely than low-income white and Asian students to live in high-poverty neighborhoods and attend high-poverty schools,” this model helped move the needle on racial diversity as well.
  3. Finding the outliers: By comparing applicants to other students with similar backgrounds and rewarding those who perform better academically, test scores are put in context. This scenario creates the most economic and racial diversity so far.
  4. Casting a wider net: When – in addition to the other three scenarios – the model focuses recruiting on predominantly minority high schools, we see the most growth in both racial and economic diversity. This strategy, though showing the highest yield, would mean more work on behalf of admissions departments, including building relationships with high school counselors and developing dual-enrollment college prep courses for lower-income students.


According to the conclusions drawn by the researchers, “rewarding students who are academic outliers given their life circumstances, while targeting a wider pool of recruits comes the closest to creating the Black and Hispanic student shares you might get by giving a boost directly to those students.” Furthermore, the Stanford/New York Times affirmative action model also suggests that, if followed, selective colleges would actually admit a significantly higher share (by nearly 34 percent) of Black and Hispanic students than were admitted in the latest admissions cycle. 

Can You Create a Diverse College Class Without Affirmative Action? (NY Times) – 3/9/24

Brown Changes Their Admissions Policy to Test-Required

Brown University announced that it will be reinstating standardized testing requirements. Starting in the 2024-2025 enrollment cycle, applicants will be mandated to include SAT or ACT results as part of the admissions process. According to a statement by the University, “Our analysis made clear that SAT and ACT scores are among the key indicators that help predict a student’s ability to succeed and thrive in Brown’s demanding academic environment.” The full details of the new policy are forthcoming.


Brown’s announcement comes just over a month after Dartmouth College modified its policy to require SAT and ACT scores – and just over a week after Yale University went “test-flexible,” a policy which mandates SAT, ACT, AP or IB scores as part of a student’s application. Like both Dartmouth and Yale, Brown cited access for low-income families as one of the reasons for the policy change. For certain students from less advantaged backgrounds, “the lack of scores may mean that admissions officers hesitate to admit them.” The committee at Brown also reviewed their policies on legacy admissions and early decision admission, but a conclusion has not yet been made in either case.

Brown University Will Reinstate Standardized Tests for Admission (NY Times) – 3/7/24

UPenn Extends Test-Optional Admissions For Another Year

The University of Pennsylvania has announced that it will extend its test-optional admissions policy through the 2024-2025 admissions cycle. Students will be able to submit scores for review, but, according to the UPenn website, “Applicants who do not submit SAT or ACT scores will not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process.” In their latest admissions cycle, Penn received an all-time high in applications with 65,230 total students applying. This is a nearly 10% percent increase from the previous year.


UPenn’s announcement comes In the midst of major policy changes from three other Ivy League institutions, with Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth moving back to test-mandatory or text-flexible admissions. As of this writing, Columbia University is the only Ivy League institution to announce that its admissions policy will permanently remain test optional. Harvard University and Princeton University have extended their provisional test-optional policies through the class of 2030 and 2029, respectively. Cornell University has not yet announced whether its policy will continue after this year’s admission cycle.

Penn extends test-optional policy for Class of 2029 while some Ivies reinstate testing requirement (The Daily Pennsylvanian) – 3/6/24

The GMAC Reports Another Loss

The number of GMAT exams taken hit a historic low in testing year 2021 with just 38,509 testers in the U.S. Now the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the company that develops and administers the test, has reported a record loss of $6.6 million in 2022. This is the third such loss in four years. The GMAC has previously reported an income of $9.9 Million in 2021, as the U.S. emerged from the height of the pandemic. This was the highest annual gain for the company since 2015.


The company is hoping that the redesigned (and significantly shorter) GMAT Focus edition – the rollout for which, it is worth noting, went quite smoothly – will provide a bounceback for the GMAC for their 2023 earnings. According to GMAC CEO Joy Jones, “The GMAT exam continues to rebound post-pandemic and remains the best indicator of candidate preparedness for graduate business programs, as highlighted by the strong engagement we had in our recent launch of the Focus edition…We expect that our efforts will reflect positively not only in our long-term financial performance but also in the continued success of the greater business education community.”

With GMAT Test-Taking Down, GMAC Reports Its Third Loss In Four Years (Poets & Quants) – 3/5/24

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Jobs Eliminated at University of Florida

Nearly a year after Governor Ron deSantis signed a bill that banned Florida’s public colleges and universities from using state or federal funds for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, The University of Florida terminated all employees in positions associated with DEI. In addition, the University system has halted any and all DEI-related contracts with outside vendors. In total, 13 full-time positions were eliminated as well as 15 faculty appointments. University officials announced that the school would be reallocating the $5 million in DEI-related funds into a faculty recruitment fund.


U of F joins a growing list of other public higher ed institutions in Florida, including University of North Florida and Florida International University, that have eliminated their DEI departments. Texas has passed a similar law banning DEI programs that took effect in January of this year, and Utah plans to roll back DEI programs in state universities and state government. Meanwhile, other states, such as Alabama, are considering similar measures. It, thus, seems like only a matter of time until the elimination of DEI jobs at higher education institutions becomes more widespread. 

University of Florida Eliminates All D.E.I.-Related Positions (NY Times) – 3/2/2024

Congress Blocks Latest FAFSA Update

In a February 27th press release, the U.S. Department of Education announced a recalculation on the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) that would have expanded Federal Pell Grants for certain students. Days later, Congress blocked this change. Critics in congress of the Dept. of Ed’s plan cited a budget shortfall in the tens of billions and the fact that the federal Pell reserves could be exhausted by 2026 – or sooner. According to Representative Virginia Foxx (R-VA), “Today’s responsible CR puts a stop to the Department of Education’s reckless action, while still enabling students to get the financial aid information they need in a timely fashion and ensuring the Pell Grant is stable in the future for families truly in need.” On the other hand, progressive members of congress criticized the decision, with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) vowing to expand the Pell Grant program, adding, “In the wealthiest country on Earth, students who want a college degree should be able to get it without facing financial ruin.”


The initial recalculation that led to the block by Congress came after an audit found yet another oversight in the initial legislation: the Department of Education had failed to specify if a raise in Pell Grant eligibility applied to students who qualify as dependents – not just those who fund college on their own. By not recalculating the budget as the Department of Education had intended, the government will save an estimated $3.4 billion. However, this move may also negatively affect the post-pandemic recovery of higher education enrollment – and put some families in a position in which college is unattainable.

Congress curtails move expanding Pell Grant access for some students (Washington Post) – 3/1/2024

FAFSA Woes Result in Fewer Students Applying For Aid

The continuing issues with the overhaul of the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) have resulted in a decline in the number of students who have applied for financial aid. If things continue on this trajectory, two million fewer students will submit this year, which represents a total decline of 15 percent. By the middle of last month only 24 percent of this year’s graduating high school class had filled out the form; this is 42 percent fewer students than by the same time last year.


With hope, many students who have not yet filled out the form will do so now that many of the initial issues have been ironed out, and the gap in percentages will start to equalize. When all is said and done, however, it is an unfortunate likelihood that the more-than-bumpy rollout of the “Better FAFSA” will have discouraged a not-insignificant number of low-income families from applying for aid – and thus will have kept certain students from attending college this year. 

Issues with new FAFSA may cause ‘shocking’ decline in the number of students getting college aid, expert says (CNBC) – 2/29/2024

Comparing AP and IB Programs

Advanced Placement (AP) program is a well-known option for U.S. students looking for a challenging curriculum that earns them college credits. Increasingly, the International Baccalaureate (IB) has become another choice for students seeking advanced coursework and a leg-up at university. Both systems provide enormous academic opportunities for college-bound students and have a good deal of overlap in terms of pedagogy. There are, however, a handful of important distinctions between the two programs.

Key Takeaways:

With the AP, schools have more latitude to choose individual courses to offer students (pending an audit by the College Board). On the other hand, the IB is more stringent in its programming with most schools offering a diploma program or career-related program. Nevertheless, within both IB frameworks, there is space for course specialization.students have a relatively wide choice of concentrations based on what their schools offer. The IB is a more expensive program up-front, with a partner school facing an annual fee of over $12 thousand. Whereas the cost of running individual AP courses could range from $1,900 to comparable to the cost of running an IB diploma program. The AP course curriculum is designed by U.S. college faculty and experienced AP instructors, while the IB relies on a Global Academic team that incorporates feedback from worldwide educators. Both the AP and the IB program provide significant academic benefit to American students looking to study at universities in the U.S. or abroad.

How International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Programs Compare (EdWeek) – 2/29/2024

Written by

Zachary Adler
Author Image Since 2010, Zach has been helping students achieve their college readiness goals, specializing in all sections of the SAT, ACT, PSAT, and SHSAT. Prior to joining Onsen, Zach worked for a global investment firm, as well as in various roles in the education space. He has served as a youth mentor and has run college readiness information sessions for students in under-resourced communities. Additionally, Zach is a writer and filmmaker. He is an International Baccalaureate scholar and a graduate of Boston University.

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