University of Chicago Goes Test-Optional, Most Selective College To Do So

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If there were such a thing as a Lady Gaga-type rock star in the world of college admissions, it’d be the admissions office at University of Chicago. In my estimation, it must be one of the most well-funded undergraduate admissions offices in the country, with the marketing prowess of Apple, and the school has never been shy of making bold, newsworthy moves.

In August 2016, UChicago Dean of Students Dr. John “Jay” Ellison wrote his famous letter to the incoming class of 2020 rejecting safe spaces and trigger warnings on campus in favor of “rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement.” It was met with a firestorm of both intensely negative and glowing reactions. Every year, at the anticipation of eager prospective students, UChicago is one of the very first schools to release the prompts for supplemental essays in its application, which have long been renowned for their wit and provocation. Here are the most recent bunch. And now, on the fourteenth day of June in the year of our Lord, two thousand eighteen, University of Chicago hath commanded that thou shalt not necessarily submit standardized test scores as part of the required application for undergraduate admission:

Your transcript shows your academic record in the context of your school, but, since one school can be very different from another, it is useful to see evidence of academic achievement that exists outside of the context of your school. This is why some colleges ask applicants to submit an SAT or ACT score. For many applicants, an SAT or ACT score can reflect their academic preparedness in this broader context.

The SAT, ACT, and other standard measures can continue to be an important part of the University of Chicago’s holistic admission process for students electing to send scores, and are a required part of the application process at many other highly selective schools. These tests can provide valuable information about a student which we and other colleges will consider alongside the other elements in a student’s application. We encourage students to take standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, and to share your scores with us if you think that they are reflective of your ability and potential. Given that many of our peers do require testing, we anticipate that the vast majority of students will continue to take tests and may still submit their test scores to UChicago.

Some applicants may feel that an SAT or ACT score does not fully reflect their academic preparedness or potential. If this is the case for you and you are a domestic applicant, you may select UChicago's test-optional method of application and not supply SAT or ACT scores with your application. We welcome any student regardless of testing plan to submit additional material (detailed in the Supplements section) that they feel best highlights their skills, talents, and potential contributions to UChicago.

In speaking with the press, James G. Norndorf, UChicago’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid said, “Testing is not the be-all and the end-all.” He doesn’t want “one little test score” to end up “scaring students off” who are otherwise qualified.

When schools axe their testing requirements, they frequently assert that they are doing so in the name of better access for all – a claim whose genuineness is regularly questioned. Many argue that the correlation between test scores and factors such as socio-economic status create unfair obstacles to large groups of disadvantaged but qualified students. According to UChicago, this shift in policy has nothing to do with ranking but everything to do with access. It’s not hard to take the school at its word. UChicago is already one of the highest ranked and most selective in country, enjoying a very stable spot toward the top of most ranking lists. In case you’re wondering how going test-optional could conceivably increase a school’s rank, some believe that no longer requiring the SAT or ACT will help exclude scores lower than what the college wants to see. So when it’s time to report those scores to ranking institutions, the data is automatically higher, increasing the school’s rank. Some ranking lists, such as the annual one put out by the U.S. News & World Report (perhaps the most famous of all), try to correct for this kind of potential manipulation. 

Of course, UChicago isn’t the first college to go test-optional, and today, it joins an ever-growing list of schools that, for one reason or another, do not demand test scores from applicants. Bowdoin College, one of the first, went test-optional in 1969, followed by Wake Forest University in 2008, Wesleyan University in 2014, and many, many others along the way. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing lists more than 175 colleges that have become test-optional since 2005.


NOTE: For international applicants, the University of Chicago states, "We do require some form of standardized testing for students who attend a high school outside the United States. International students may elect to submit either predicted IB or A-Level scores instead of the SAT or ACT."