Harvard College Reinstitutes Mandatory Testing

Applicants for the class of 2029 must submit scores.

standardized test

Harvard announced today that the College will reinstitute mandatory submission of standardized test scores for applicants. | PHOTOGRAPH BY UNSPLASH

Harvard announced today that the College will reinstitute mandatory submission of standardized test scores for applicants, beginning with students applying for fall 2025 admission (the class of 2029). Until today’s decision, the College had a test-optional policy in place for applicants through the class of 2030. The announcement follows similar decisions by Dartmouth, Yale, and Brown to require standardized testing beginning with the class of 2029.

Test-optional policies were widely adopted during the pandemic, when it was difficult to sit for standardized tests, and many remained in place even as the threat of illness faded. The tests were thought to disadvantage lower-income students and those from under-resourced high schools. But a working paper coauthored in 2023 by Ackman professor of public economics Raj Chetty, Black professor of political economy and professor of education and economics David Deming, and John Friedman, a professor of economics at Brown, found standardized tests are a useful means of identifying promising students at less well-resourced high schools. In a statement, Chetty said “Critics correctly note that standardized tests are not an unbiased measure of students’ qualifications, as students from higher-income families often have greater access to test prep and other resources. But the data reveal that other measures—recommendation letters, extracurriculars, essays—are even more prone to such biases. Considering standardized test scores is likely to make the admissions process at Harvard more meritocratic while increasing socioeconomic diversity.”

As previously reported, MIT, which reinstituted a testing requirement last year—citing SAT math scores as measures of an applicant’s ability to handle a highly quantitative curriculum—recently reported enrolling its most diverse class. (In late March, Emi Nietfeld ’15 had argued in favor of mandatory standardized testing from the perspective of a disadvantaged applicant in this New York Times essay, “How the SAT Changed My Life.”)

In today’s announcement, Harvard said it will require submission of SAT or ACT scores, but that other eligible tests, such as AP exams and International Baccalaureate scores, will be accepted in exceptional cases. (Yale had previously announced a similar “test-flexible” policy, allowing applicants to submit scores from that range of exams.) “Standardized tests are a means for all students, regardless of their background and life experience, to provide information that is predictive of success in college and beyond” said Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi Hoekstra in an email to students and colleagues. “Indeed, when students have the option of not submitting their test scores, they may choose to withhold information that, when interpreted by the admissions committee in the context of the local norms of their school, could have potentially helped their application. In short,” she continued, “more information, especially such strongly predictive information, is valuable for identifying talent from across the socioeconomic range.” Added Deming, “The virtue of standardized tests is their universality. Not everyone can hire an expensive college coach to help them craft a personal essay. But everyone has the chance to ace the SAT or the ACT. While some barriers do exist, the widespread availability of the test provides, in my view, the fairest admissions policy for disadvantaged applicants.”

Although Harvard and other institutions can no longer consider race in admissions (following a 2023 Supreme Court decision), the College continues to weigh all of an applicant’s qualities, in a holistic process that considers the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. Dean of admissions and financial aid William Fitzsimmons noted that “Test scores can provide important information about a student’s application. However, they represent only one factor among many as our admissions committee considers the whole person in making its decisions. Admission officers understand that not all students attend well-resourced schools, and those who come from modest economic backgrounds or first-generation college families may have had fewer opportunities to prepare for standardized tests.”

Read more articles by Jonathan Shaw

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