Testing Requirements in Flux: Navigating the Evolving Admissions Policies

Mar 14, 2024

Testing Requirements in Flux: Navigating the Evolving Admissions Policies

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a paradigm shift in higher education admissions policy. With SAT and ACT administrations canceled and many students unable to test in 2020, the majority of U.S. colleges and universities that previously required SAT or ACT scores pivoted to test-optional admissions.

In general, “test-optional” means that schools will weigh SAT or ACT scores as part of a student’s academic portfolio, but applicants choosing to refrain from submitting standardized test scores will not be at a disadvantage. In other words, applying without test scores will not negatively impact a student’s application review or scholarship consideration.

For some institutions, shifting to test-optional admissions was merely a provisional move, while others had already been considering – or had actively instituted – such a policy change. In the years since the start of the pandemic, college and university admissions policies have evolved based on particular institutions’ philosophies and needs. We have identified and broken down the different policy categories below.

Test-Required (Or Test-Mandatory)

Several highly-selective universities have made the decision to return to requiring SAT or ACT scores as part of their application process. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgetown University reinstated their testing policies after the initial pandemic surge had passed, mandating that all Class of 2026 applicants submit test scores. According to Stu Schmill, MIT Dean of Admissions and Student Financial Services, SAT and ACT scores are invaluable to the school’s evaluation process: “Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to…opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT.”

In February of this year, Dartmouth College announced that it would return to a test-required policy, weeks after releasing data from a robust internal study, which concluded that SAT and ACT scores are a better predictor of success at Dartmouth than other factors – including high school grades. The study also suggested that Dartmouth’s temporary test-optional admissions policy had an unintended consequence of harming low-income students: more of these applicants could have been admitted to Dartmouth if they had submitted scores. Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, clarified that this policy change is not one-size-fits-all: “We did not see this decision at Dartmouth as a more universal truth that everybody must follow. I think there’s lots of schools…that have been test-optional for decades, and they do it well and it’s integral to the way they may read and evaluate their class.”

Brown University and The University of Texas at Austin are the most recent institutions to move to a test-mandatory policy. The schools cited the predictive power of the tests and opportunities for low-income students as the reasoning for the reinstatement. Like Dartmouth’s, Brown’s and UT Austin’s policies will come into effect for students applying in the 2024-2025 cycle. 

Other universities in the U.S. News and World Report top 100 that require SAT/ACT scores are Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia, and Purdue University, the latter only waving this requirement “in some exceptional cases.” Key U.S military institutions such as United States Military Academy West Point, United States Naval Academy, and United States Air Force Academy all require test scores.

Nearly every school on this list considers the highest score a student archives on each section if that student takes the SAT or ACT multiple times. Georgetown is the only institution here that has a stricter policy: “Georgetown does not participate in Score Choice and requires submission of each applicant’s complete testing record, including all SAT (and/or) ACT (scores).”


Weeks after Dartmouth’s announcement of its policy change, Yale University followed suit, reinstating testing requirements for all applicants for the 2024/2025 cycle and beyond. According to a statement by Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, Jeremiah Quinlan, “students with higher scores have been more likely to have higher Yale GPAs, and test scores are the single greatest predictor of a student’s performance in Yale courses in every model we have constructed.”

A notable difference with Yale is that the school’s policy is “test-flexible.” This means that students have the option of submitting Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores in lieu of those from the SAT or ACT. Currently, Yale is the only highly-selective university that requires applicants to submit scores while also providing this caveat; however, certain institutions that are now test-optional – New York University being a noteworthy example – had test-flexible policies in place prior to the pandemic.

In the public university system in the state of Florida, a recent change to admissions policy requires applicants to submit standardized test scores, but this policy can be considered test-flexible as it gives students an option to submit Classical Learning Test (CLT) scores in place of SAT/ACT scores. The CLT is a standardized exam that is accepted at 250+ colleges and has a heavy focus on classical literature and historical texts. Florida’s move to adopt the CLT as part of its state admissions criteria has been met with some controversy as the test is less heavily vetted than the SAT or the ACT and because of its founder’s ties ideology that is considered by some to be extremist. 

University of Florida, Florida State University, and New College of Florida are noteworthy examples among the institutions that have adopted this test-flexible policy. It is worth highlighting that the testing requirement is in place because of regulations handed down by the Florida Board of Governors. According to Florida State University’s website, “Requiring an ACT or SAT test score for admissions consideration is not an institutional choice.”


The vast majority of colleges and universities have been and remain test-optional since the start of the pandemic. At most schools, the test-optional policy is fluid and – at least for now – temporary. Princeton University, for instance, has extended its test-optional policy through next year, but will “continue to assess the role standardized testing should play in our admission process.” Some schools, however, have released more definitive statements about the future of their admissions.

In 2021, Harvard University determined that its test-optional admissions policy would be in place for at least four years and has since extended that policy to cover applicants through the Class of 2030. Columbia University, meanwhile, has announced that it has permanently adopted a test-optional approach. According to a university statement, the decision was made after an internal study found that dropping standardized test requirements “did not lead to a diminishment of the academic performance of (its) admitted classes or the academic success of (its) enrolled students.” This past week, University of Michigan also “formally implemented a test-optional policy for undergraduate admissions for future terms.”

Boston College and the University of Pennsylvania will remain test optional for this upcoming admissions cycle, Texas Tech through Fall 2025, and the University of Connecticut through the Fall 2026 application season.


Duke University recently announced that it has stopped “assigning points” to standardized test scores as part of its admissions process. Previous years’ applicants’ test scores had been assigned point values of 1 to 5 as part of an overall score out of 30, but starting in the 2024-2025 application cycle, SAT and ACT scores, while still being accepted, will not be assigned a point value.

School officials contend that admissions will not be test-blind, but have not yet provided full clarification on how scores are being incorporated into the evaluation process. What we can extrapolate from this move is that, at Duke, standardized testing has been deprioritized in an official sense. Duke is the first university to institute such a framework and has, in doing so, given other institutions another option in crafting admissions policy. It remains to be seen which other schools will adopt a similar approach.

Noteworthy about the Duke policy change is that the school has also stopped assigning points to students’ college essays. The reasoning behind this shift is the proliferation of AI writing software. According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Christoph Guttentag, “Essays are very much part of our understanding of the applicant. We’re just no longer assuming that the essay is an accurate reflection of the student’s actual writing ability.”


In May of 2020, months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of California Board of Regents unanimously moved to permanently suspend testing requirements for applicants. This decision has affected those applying to the University of California system (notably UCLA and UC Berkeley), The California State University system and California Institute of Technology. In 2021, the board went further, announcing that these California schools would become test-blind: even if a student decides to send their SAT or ACT test scores, those scores will not be considered as part of the admissions.

Certain private universities have also switched to test-blind policies. University of San Diego chose to become a “test-free” campus in October 2020, a decision which, according to a University statement, “furthers (the institutions) commitment to increasing academic access and social equity, as well as providing an admissions process that is fair and equitable for all students.” In 2021, Worcester Polytech Institute moved from a test-optional policy – which had been adopted in 2007 – to a test-blind “pilot program (that) makes SAT and ACT scores irrelevant, eliminating these inequities and barriers to access.”

Hampshire College and Reed College are two high-cachet small liberal arts schools that have also adopted test-blind policies. Interestingly, Dickinson College, which is a small, selective liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, had instituted a test-blind policy during the height of the pandemic, but it has since moved back to its pre-pandemic policy of test-optional admission.

As provisional admissions policies continue to expire, we expect to see more high-visibility institutions making conclusive decisions about the role standardized testing will play in the future of their admissions. We will follow these policy changes here as the U.S. higher education admissions landscape continues to evolve.

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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