University of Chicago Makes ACT, SAT Optional in Effort to Increase Socioeconomic Diversity

On June 14, the University of Chicago (UChicago) announced that starting next year, U.S. applicants to the school would no longer be required to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of the admissions process. The university — which admits fewer than 10 percent of applicants and is ranked third on U.S. News & World Report’slist of top universities — is one of the most selective institutions to drop the standardized test requirement. In doing so, it joins more than 1,000 less prestigious four-year colleges and universities that have also gone test-optional.

UChicago Dean of Admissions James Nondorf told the media that the change stems from a desire to attract more underrepresented and low-income students to the university. In 2016-2017, only 10 percent of UChicago’s 6,000 undergraduates qualified for Pell Grants. Additionally, research indicates that strong disparities exist between standardized test scores for white, Asian, and upper-income students versus African American, Native American, Latino, and low-income students.

Skeptics argue that some colleges drop the SAT and ACT requirement because doing so helps increase their place in national rankings, as those who do tend to submit test results often have high scores. In addition, if going test-optional leads to a larger applicant pool for a school, it can tout itself as being more selective. In the case of UChicago, its current rate of admission is one of the lowest in the country at 7 percent.

Others argue that standardized tests play an important role in clarifying students’ actual skill levels within an educational environment that often pressures high school teachers to inflate students’ grades. ACT issued a statement regarding that point, arguing that test scores are a useful metric when college applicants come from “different high schools, live in different states, complete different courses with different teachers, and receive different grades.”

Matthew Chingos, a researcher with the Urban Institute, supports the idea that test scores are largely irrelevant. In a new report in which he tracked the six-year graduation rates of a group of students who attended less selective four-year public colleges and universities, he found that high school GPA is a far better predictor of college completion than SAT scores. According to his findings, students with mediocre SAT scores and high GPAs graduated at a 62 percent rate, whereas those with high SAT scores but mediocre GPAs graduated at a rate of 39 percent.

In addition to its action surrounding standardized tests, UChicago is working to attract a more socioeconomically diverse student body in other ways. For example, university officials announced that the school will provide full-tuition scholarships for students whose families earn less than $125,000 annually, as well as expand scholarships to veterans and children of police officers and firefighters.