In mid-June, the University of Chicago announced that it standardized test scores would no longer be required from its undergraduate applicants, and shockwaves are still reverberating through the higher education landscape. While Chicago is certainly not the first school to make this change, it is currently the only highly selective, top-10 research university in the United States to have adopted a test-optional admissions policy.

In recent years, hundreds of universities have dropped the SAT and ACT as a requirement for admission, including major research institutions like New York University, George Washington University, and Wake Forest University. However, the test optional trend is especially evident at elite liberal arts colleges, where academic powerhouses including Bowdoin, Middlebury, Colby, and Smith have had such policies in place for at least a decade.

Why are more selective colleges choosing to go test optional?

The move from Chicago comes at a time when many in the higher education field are already calling into question the value of standardized testing as a measure of college-readiness. A recent study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that high school GPA had a stronger correlation with college success than standardized test scores. Critics call the SAT and ACT better measure of wealth and racial inequality than tests of ability. Not only do wealthier families have more disposable income to invest in preparing their children for standardized tests, African-American, Latinx, and Native American students tend to fare worse on the exams due to systemic disadvantages.

Hence, Chicago’s change in policy is part of a broader strategy to lower the barriers to entry encountered by students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the admissions process, known as the UChicago Empower Initiative. In addition to adopting the test optional policy, UChicago is taking several other measures to widen access, such as:

  • Guaranteeing free tuition for families with incomes under $124,000 per year.
  • Providing free tuition, fees, room and board for families earning less than $60,00 per year.
  • Offering more opportunities to present non-standard accomplishments as supplements to the application.
  • Introducing new scholarship and internship opportunities for students who are the firs in their families to attend college.

What does Chicago’s new policy mean for me?

Chicago’s policy does not function in exactly the same way for international students as it does for applicants within the United States. Depending on which curriculum your high school follows, you might still need to fulfill some testing requirements. Nonetheless, there are still significant opportunities for high-achieving international applicants to throw their hat in the ring for the University of Chicago, without submitting or, as the case may be, even taking the SAT or ACT.Students attending high schools outside the US must submit one of several other forms of testing in lieu of an SAT or ACT score, including:

  • Predicted or final A-Level results
  • Predicted or final IB scores
  • Three or more SAT Subject Test scores (including one test in science, computer science, or math and one in literature, history, or language)
  • For students whose schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes, three or more AP exams scores (including one test in science, computer science, or math and one in literature, history, or language)

Will other elite institutions follow?

The short answer is yes — it is just a matter of time. Many in the higher education world are calling UChicago’s move a watershed moment in the test optional movement. It has certainly sparked conversation in the admissions offices of America’s most prestigious universities, whose eyes will now be on Chicago to see how the change in policy affects their ability to attract the top students globally, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Over the coming years, it is all but a foregone conclusion that more universities will follow Chicago’s lead. Watch this space for updates!