NO SAT!?! NO ACT!?! UChicago’s Curve Ball

Testing is not the be-all and the end-all, said James G. Nondorf, U-Chicago’s dean of admissions and financial aid. He said he didn’t want “one little test score” to end up “scaring students off” who are otherwise qualified.

From The Washington Post,  June 14, 2018

On June 14, 2018, the University of Chicago’s John W. Boyer, dean of the college, announced that starting this Fall of 2018, freshman applicants from the United States will no longer be required to submit SAT or ACT test scores as a part of their application.

Teens and their parents regularly complain about the SAT and ACT, for the length, the seeming “high-stakes” of the scores, and as one senior wrote in her college essay:

Universities’ admissions policies place significance on one four hour timed exam taken on a single Saturday at the end of a hectic school week starting at 7:45 AM… less than perfect testing conditions for a 16 year old. The difference between the 93rd percentile and the 99th percentile is a matter of a few questions. God-forbid a student finds themselves at the tip of the bell curve forever branded with average-status. Having an “okay” test score can place a black mark across the application, which then could lead  the evaluator to prejudice the applicant before even reading their essays. Three months later, the eighteen year old future California senator opens a letter reading, “We regret to inform you…”

So, the University of Chicago’s announcement would seemingly come to rounding applause and rejoicing in the streets.  Yet, the reviews are mixed.  The senior who wrote the aforementioned quote was angry.  She had submitted an application essay (including the above quote) which was a thoughtful, balanced critique of standardized tests, echoing the sentiments of Dean Nondorf, who was quoted in The Chicago Tribune:

We were sending a message to students, with our own requirements, that one test basically identifies you,” said Jim Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at U. of C. “Despite the fact that we would say testing is only one piece of the application, that’s the first thing a college asks you.

Yet, she was waitlisted for Fall 2018 admissions at the University of Chicago.

A current college student at a University of California campus stated that her sister, who will be applying to colleges in a few months, and her mom were “hopeful” for her sister’s admissions chances.  However, she herself was skeptical of the University of Chicago’s admissions motives:

I can’t tell if they are serious in their commitment to helping more kids go to college in a less traditional way

Or if they are doing it to get ahead of their colleagues for marketing purposes

She wondered if admissions officers were “gaming” the process in the race for applicants, like what many seniors try and do by “gaming” the admissions process. Further stating:

If U of C [University of Chicago] is doing this as part of an initiative to promote equitable access to higher education, then hopefully more institutions will follow suit, but until the results demonstrate positive change, I remain skeptical.

Another college student, Hannah, who attends American University, which has a test-optional admissions policy (meaning applicants are not required to submit SAT or ACT scores with their applications), wondered:

Does this make them anti-establishment? Honestly, these non-requirements of ACT and SAT seem like a nice show, but of all the students I’ve talked to they still take it [the SAT and ACT] and submit it [SAT or ACT scores] regardless just to have that extra piece of information on their application. AU [American University] doesn’t require it, and as far as I know, most students still submit.

Thus, although the University of Chicago now gives applicants more freedom to portray themselves and their qualifications for admissions, including submitting a two-minute video, the mentality of applicants and the culture of college admissions may be slow to welcome the change.   A rising high school junior recently remarked to me that he and his friends are less concerned with their SAT and ACT scores and Grade Point Average (GPA), as it seems to them that everyone is a 4.0+GPA student and earned 95th percentile and above test scores.  Their concern is for scoring near-perfect SAT Subject Test scores as THE way to distinguish themselves from the pack of grade-inflated, high test scoring applicants for selective college admissions.

Thus, the University of Chicago is “swimming upstream” with their latest admissions policy, for which Dean Nondorf, Dean Boyer and the thinkers at UChicago should be applauded. They’ve taking the first step toward a more balanced admissions evaluation policy. “A good trend,” says Ethan, a current college student attending an Ivy League university. Ethan further reflected in a series of text messages:

Test scores in high school principally reflect the time and resources that students have to spare. 

I’d also say test scores lead to an inefficient allocation of effort.

They create an incentive for students to pour time and energy into test score maximizing strategies instead of activities that would produce greater learning…sometimes resulting in the ‘ACT as an extracurricular’ type of student.

In a test-optional world, students who can do well on those tests [the SAT and ACT] can flaunt their scores.

Others can spend their time on what they do best, whether that’s music or community service or more niche academic work.

So, the movers and shakers at the University of Chicago have created the potential for an admissions process which not only accounts for the unique qualities of each applicant, they’ve deftly deflated the Race for Admissions, democratizing the admissions process by empowering applicants to engage the application process in their own way with their own flair.  The gauntlet has been thrown down.  Who will be the next to follow?

For more details about the UChicago Admissions Policy change, review the UChicago Empower

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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