On 21 May, the University of California (UC) announced a landmark decision to phase out SAT and ACT requirements over the next five years. As part of this move, all UC schools will be test-optional until 2022, after which they will go test-blind for in-state applicants. What this means is that the University will no longer use ACT and SAT scores to make admissions decisions for students applying from California. This policy will come into place from 2023. In the long-term, UC is also considering alternative options, specifically introducing its own admissions test.

Test-optional admissions have become increasingly common in the last few years as an effort to level the college admissions playing field, and increase access to higher education for low-income and minority applicants. UC’s decision, which goes one step further to eliminate these tests from the admissions process altogether, was taken on similar grounds as the outcome of a lawsuit that was filed by a coalition of students, advocacy groups, and a largely black and Hispanic school district.

In our last blog post, we anticipated that a verdict to drop standardized testing by UC could reshape the college admissions process. As one of the country’s largest public university systems, UC enrolls over 280,000 students and is home to 10 campuses. This includes highly-ranked institutions such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of California, Berkeley. Given its size and prestige, UC’s decision is likely to influence how other colleges and universities approach standardized testing.

  • One outcome we may see is more institutions going test-optional, a trend that has already gained momentum amid the coronavirus pandemic where students have had fewer opportunities to take the SAT / ACT exams. Taking a leaf out of UC’s book, schools that have temporarily waived these requirements, may now consider extending their test-optional policies beyond 2021. (Here is a useful list of schools that have recently gone test-optional, but keep in mind that many universities have only temporarily waived standardized testing for the Class of 2021).
  • It is, however, too early to predict whether schools will follow California’s approach and move away from standardized testing. For one, it is worth pointing out that although UC is eliminating the SAT / ACT requirements, it will look to replace these with its own admissions test by 2025. As a first step, it will conduct a study into whether to adopt this test, so at this stage it is not clear what this test would actually constitute. Needless to say, if UC does end up introducing its own test this would only add yet another testing hurdle to what is already a burdensome process for students.
  • The second area of uncertainty is how UC intends to address out-of-state and international applicants. While the administration has confirmed that it will go test-blind for California students from 2023, it is yet to determine its policy for students applying from other states and countries. This may include reverting to SAT / ACT requirements or transitioning into a UC-specific admissions test. All of these decisions will clearly play an important role in shaping how and whether colleges choose to move away from standardized testing.

We will continue to keep an eye on further developments from the University of California, so be sure to watch this space for more updates on its standardized testing policy and the test optional movement!